The Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) Community is the Navy’s community of experts in surface ship design, construction, maintenance, and operation. SWOs are responsible for everything from designing ships like the USS Gerald R. Ford to running day-to-day operations aboard ships like the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71). They’re also tasked with training sailors who will become qualified operators on these vessels. This blog post will outline what you need to know about becoming a Surface Warfare Officer.
For starters, it’s important to note that there are two different paths for aspiring SWOs: Officers can be commissioned through Naval Academy or NROTC programs, or they can enlist as an E5 and go through OCS. The enlistment path requires you to have a four-year college degree, so if you’re planning on an academy commission, it’s probably best to enroll at your local campus. This article will provide you with the info you’ll need to decide which path is right for you.
1. What Is a Surface Warfare Officer?
As mentioned above, an SWO is responsible for everything from designing ships to running day-to-day operations onboard them. Often, an SWO will be responsible for managing an entire department of personnel and equipment. In the Navy’s surface fleet, there are nine different types of ships that an SWO might find themself serving on. These ships include guided-missile destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships, mine countermeasures vessels, and more. Since SWO are experts in surface warfare, they can be assigned to any ship within this category.
If you’re considering becoming an SWO, it’s also important to note that this service isn’t restricted to officers. There are some enlisted opportunities within the SWO community, and these sailors might work onboard ships or serve ashore in an administrative role.
2. What Do Navy Surface Warfare Officers do?
Navy surface warfare officers are responsible for the maintenance and operation of ships and all their equipment. They work closely with other Navy personnel to maintain a safe, secure, and effective shipboard environment.
Navy surface warfare officers may be assigned as a commanding officer or executive officer of a warship or operational unit; as a chief staff officer on a large command staff; as head of an agency afloat such as the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Florida; or as a liaison between naval activities ashore and those afloat.
In addition to managing day-to-day operations aboard vessels at sea, they also oversee construction projects for new ships. And they’re often called on to provide leadership during natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes when the Navy provides humanitarian assistance.
3. How to Be an Officer in the Navy?
To become a surface warfare officer, you’ll need an outstanding performance in your college courses and relevant work experience or volunteer service. You must also meet physical standards, pass a medical examination, receive security clearance approval and take an oath of office.
If you want to enlist in the Navy, you’ll face similar requirements at enlistment.
If you meet all requirements, you can take officer-training courses in surface warfare. These officers’ training courses are available only at specific locations within the United States. Officer candidates report to one of three naval facilities offering surface warfare officer training: Newport, Rhode Island; Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois; and San Diego, California.
Naval Station Great Lakes is the Navy’s only enlisted recruit training center with a surface warfare school. For more than 90 years, it has been the gateway to becoming a naval officer for men and women who enlist in the Navy as undesignated seamen. It is also the primary training location for women and men to begin as surface warfare officers.
There, you’ll participate in a rigorous 18-week course of academics and physical challenges that will test your commitment to succeed. Because the conditions aboard ship mirror those experienced at sea, much of your training occurs in simulators and laboratories where you’ll learn to operate and maintain equipment such as weapons, electronic navigation systems, and engines.
Once you graduate from the training course in Great Lakes, you’ll attend a two-week orientation in Newport, Rhode Island. You will learn more about the shipboard environment and visit different types of ships to familiarize yourself with Navy life. You’ll begin your career as a surface warfare officer following your graduation and orientation.
4. How Long Does It Take to Become a Navy Surface Warfare Officer?
A Navy surface warfare officer typically spends about two years in school, training, and on-the-job experience before they are considered for promotion to the next level of responsibility.
To be eligible for advancement to chief warrant officer (CWO2), you must have at least seven years of active duty service as a warrant officer. For the surface warfare specialty, this means you must have served as a CWO2 for at least two years.
The path to becoming a chief warrant officer requires several years of experience in your current pay grade, reviews by commanding officers, and selection by a board of master chiefs and commissioned officers.
Being a Navy surface warfare officer is physically demanding but rewarding. Just like in any other Navy career, you’ll make lifelong friendships and take part in adventures you could never experience in your backyard.
5. Salary of a Surface Warfare Officer
As a surface warfare officer in the Navy, you can expect to earn a good salary and benefits.
Salaries for Navy officers depend on their rank and years of service. As of 2016, pay for junior officers (enlisted personnel with less than two years of service) ranged from $2,583 per month for a seaman recruit to $6,927 per month for a lieutenant.
Officers with more than 20 years of experience could earn up to $15,521 per month.
In addition to regular pay, Navy officers receive allowances for food, housing, and clothing. They also may qualify for special pay such as submarine duty or hazardous duty pay.
Benefits available to all military members include health care, housing, and education benefits. All officers also have access to retirement planning services and may qualify for a Thrift Savings Plan similar to a 401(k).
6. The Career Outlook for a Surface Warfare Officer
SWO is something that many junior officers consider before attending SWOS or commissioning from ROTC. The good news for those interested in a surface warfare career is that the School of Naval Warfare School is growing more vital than ever, with an increasing number of ships, submarines, and aircraft carriers making their way into the fleet during this time of a shrinking defense budget. Despite a shrinking budget, the need for capable surface warfare officers remains high. With a limited number of ships in the fleet, and increasing missions being assigned to them, SWOs are becoming one of the most sought-after communities in the Navy. This is especially true given that many naval officers want to get their ticket punched aboard a submarine or an aircraft carrier.
The future looks bright for SWOs in the surface warfare community, and there is no shortage of opportunities to be highly sought after in several different roles.
7. How Hard is It to Become a Surface Warfare Officer?
A Surface Warfare Officer is responsible for the operation and management of surface ships. They are in charge of ensuring that their crew can safely navigate any ocean, including running drills to ensure readiness. An SEO must be well versed in mathematics, chemistry, physics, engineering mechanics, and more. It takes years to become qualified as an SWO, so it’s not an easy career choice.
8. Where Do Surface Warfare Officers Get Stationed?
Most surface warfare officers are stationed on naval ships, but they may also be assigned to shore duty. Naval ships can be deployed worldwide, and an SWO may be called upon to serve in any number of locations. Typical postings include the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America.
9. What Rank Is an SWO in the Navy?
There are three categories of rank in the Navy: enlisted, officer, flag, and surface warfare officers are considered officers. According to the Navy, “officers play a dual role as technical experts and as operators of naval forces.” As an SWO, you will usually start your career somewhere between the O-1 (Ensign) and O-4 (Lieutenant Commander), depending on prior experience.
The training to become an SWO is tough, so it takes years of hard work! Once you’ve passed all the requirements, you will be put through Surface Warfare Officer’s School in Newport, R.I., where you will learn everything about ships.
The surface warfare officer (SWO) career path is one of the most challenging and rewarding in the United States Navy. It offers opportunities to serve on ships worldwide, work with some of the best sailors in the Navy, and be a part of cutting-edge technology and operations. If you’re interested in becoming an SWO, we encourage you to learn more about what it takes to pursue this exciting career. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re happy to help!