Navy Surface Warfare Officer (SWO)

Description and Qualifications For SWO

USA - Inside the USS San Antonio
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Surface Warfare: The Backbone of the Navy

Any navy is most widely known for it's ships and submarines, but the world sees the strength of the United States displayed throughout the seven seas with nuclear aircraft carriers the size of three football fields, guided missile cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. The projection of power is what the United States Navy brings to the Department of Defense. The "Surface Fleet" is run by Surface Warfare Officers (SWO).

SWOs are typically responsible for more than 300 people and millions of dollars of complex equipment during their initial tour. Many of the skills and much of the knowledge they acquired in college are put to immediate use. Once commissioned a Naval officer, educational opportunities from technical training to postgraduate school are available to further professional growth. Promotions are regular and based upon performance and time in rank.

The Requirements

Surface Warfare Officers must be at least 19 and less than 29 at the time of commission. However, waivers up to 2 yrs for prior Active Duty service is allowed. However, officers must posses a Bachelor's Degree with two semesters of semesters of calculus and calculus-based physics required. Receiving a college education and commission before the age of 22 is rare.

Surface Warfare Officers are made through three main programs:

Officer Candidate School (OCS), Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC), and the United States Naval Academy (USNA). Once you receive your commission through one of the three programs, you will attend the Surface Warfare Officers School Division Officer Course (SWOSDOC) and onto your ship where you will begin your Division Officer (DIVO) tour. SWOSDOC is designed to provide the tools needed for a successful first sea assignment. After completing the SWOSDOC Core, you will be sent to a specialty school for instruction focused on the requirements of your first job.

Specialty schools include Anti-submarine Warfare Officer, Engineering Division Officer, Damage Control Assistant, and Communications Officer. Most of these schools are in Newport and are from 3 to 7 weeks long. Total time in Newport is 23 to 26 weeks.

Upon the commissioning date, the SWO must have a minimum of 4 years of active duty service plus 4 years inactive available on the commitment.

A Surface Warfare Officer must have correctable 20/20 vision though waivers are considered and PRK and LASIK eye surgeries are also waiverable.

Specific Duties of the Surface Warfare Officer

Surface Warfare Officers are Navy officers whose training and primary duties focus on the operation of Navy ships at sea and the management of various shipboard systems. Their ultimate goal is to command a Navy surface ship. Navy systems such as the vertical launch system that fires surface-to-air and cruise missiles require the skills and expertise of people trained in high-tech fields.

Specific job elements for the first tour: The primary goals of the Division Officer Sequencing Plan are to provide optimal readiness to the fleet and maximum development opportunities to the individuals. To this end, Division Officer tours are 42-month split tours designed to provide individuals diversity in their background and experiences. The first tour will be 24 months with the most important milestones of the initial sea tour being the achievement of the Officer of the Deck (Fleet) and Surface Warfare Officer qualifications.

These qualifications are designed to be completed within the first 12 to 18 months. During the initial sea tour, officers may be assigned to multiple departments to provide a diversified background and facilitate Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) and Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) qualification. Development of seamanship, warfighting skills, and dynamic leadership are key elements in the initial sea tour. The second Division Officer tour lasts 18 months and will always be in a department different from the initial tour.

During the second tour, Division Officers are expected to complete Engineering Officer of the Watch qualification and many will make progress towards qualifying as Tactical Action Officer. The second sea tour billets are designed to fill specific needs of the Navy commensurate with an officer's background. Additionally, follow-on sea tours provide professional benefits to the officer including additional qualifications and a more diversified background.

Locations of fleet assignments: The initial fleet assignments man take you to Norfolk, VA, San Diego, CA, Bremerton, WA, Pearl Harbor, HI, Yokosuka, Japan, or Mayport, Florida. The largest concentration of Navy shore billets is on the East Coast, mainly in Washington, DC, Newport, RI, and Norfolk, VA. Opportunities for shore duty include Naval Post Graduate School (NPGS), JCS/OSD Intern Program, and various instructor assignments. The Naval Post Graduate Schools offers technical and non-technical curricula and provides junior officers an excellent early opportunity to obtain advanced degrees.

Individuals not assigned to NPGS are encouraged to work on advanced degrees during the "off-duty" time. First, shore tours are designed to further broaden a junior officer's background and expand their opportunities.

Special pay/bonuses: SWO's earn sea duty pay while on sea duty from their 1st day of duty at sea. SWO's also earn hazardous duty pay and tax-free base pay while deployed to certain hot spots. Upon selection to Department Head, SWO's can earn a $50,000 bonus for signing on to complete a 36 month (typical) afloat department head sequence.

After Department Head tour, most SWO's will receive advanced education and move onto their Executive Officer and Commanding Officer tour if selected for command. The advancement to major command is for high performing Captains who may also advance into the Admiral ranks and in charge of squadrons and fleets.