What is Surface Warfare?
Surface Warfare is the “traditional” community within the Navy that employs surface ships for the missions of forward naval presence, sea control, and projection of power ashore. Surface Warfare Officers (or SWOs, pronounced “swohs”) are the men and women who, as junior officers just out of college, lead the sailors within the many specialized divisions of a ship’s crew. 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.
Where are SWOs Stationed?
From Norfolk, Virginia, to Yokosuka, Japan, the Navy has many homeports for its surface fleet. Should you become a SWO, the goal is to give you as much choice as possible as to where you will be stationed and what kind of ship (ship type and class) you will serve in. The surface fleet consists of many different types of ships, each contributing in their own unique ways to the success of the Navy’s mission as a whole. The abbreviation(s) for each “ship type” is in parentheses.
- Cruisers (CG) protect the fleet from airborne threats by using their advanced AEGIS radars and anti-air missile systems, and also have the capability of striking targets ashore with their deck guns and long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles.
- Destroyers (DDG) – protect the fleet from surface and submarine threats; many also have AEGIS, as well as the capability to use their deck guns and Tomahawk cruise missiles to strike targets ashore.
- Frigates (FFG) – small, tough convoy escort ships that provide anti-air and anti-submarine protection.
- Aircraft Carriers (CVN) – home to over seventy aircraft, ranging from F/A-18 strike fighters, to EA-6B radar-jammers, and E-2C early-warning/command and control aircraft.
- Amphibious Ships (LHA/LHD/LPD/LSD) – carry up to 2,000 Marines, and their equipment, vehicles, and supplies. The Amphibious Assault subtype, or LHA’s and LHD’s, double as small aircraft carriers that are home to various kinds of helicopters and the Harrier vertical take-off and landing jet fighter. The LHA’s, LHD’s, and LSD’s all carry modern, high-speed Landing Craft, Air-Cushion (LCAC) to ferry Marines and their gear ashore.
- Minesweepers (MCM) – detect and clear naval mines from areas in which other ships soon will be operating.
- Patrol Craft (PC) – small, speedy ships that patrol coastlines as well as insert and support SEAL special operations forces ashore.
- Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is designed to defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance in the coastal water battlespace. A fast, maneuverable and networked surface combatant, LCS provides the required warfighting capabilities and operational flexibility to execute focused missions close to the shore such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare.
What Will Be My Role as a SWO?
As a junior SWO, you will lead a division of sailors aboard one of the above listed types of ships. A “division” is made up of work centers responsible for a certain component of your ship, such as specific electronics, weapons, or engineering system. Immediately after graduating from college in the NROTC Program, you will report to your first ship as a Division Officer. Division Officer tours are 42 month “split tours” designed to provide individuals as much diversity as is possible in their background and experiences. The first tour will be 24 months. The most important milestones of this initial sea tour are completing 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. After learning the basics of shipboard life and attaining your Officer of the Deck qualification, you will complete a month-long training course at the Surface Warfare Officers School Command (SWOSCOLOM) Newport, Rhode Island. You will be assigned a “wardroom” of other junior officers from diverse ship and billet assignments. By participating in seminars, exercises, and simulators you will learn from each other’s experiences and broaden your Surface Warfare knowledge. Upon returning to your ship, you will be ready to complete your SWO qualifications and earn your Surface Warfare Officer Pin. 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, war fighting skills, and effective leadership are key elements in this first tour. The second Division Officer tour lasts 18 months. It 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 (if not already completed) and many will make significant progress towards qualifying as Tactical Action Officer.
Is life as a SWO only about life at sea? No. SWOs do “shore tours”, usually lasting no more than two years. These are completed between sea tours, and are designed to give the officer experiences and educational opportunities vital to furthering a career as a SWO. For example, after your division officer tours you might have a staff job at the Pentagon or another Navy shore command in a fleet concentration area such as Norfolk or San Diego. You might serve as an instructor at SWOS, fleet tactical schools, the Naval Academy, or a NROTC unit. You may be assigned to the Naval Postgraduate School, where your “job” will be as a full-time student earning a masters degree. If you performed well at sea as a Division Officer, and continue to perform well ashore, you can expect to be promoted in your following sea tours and lead a department. Those selected as “Department Head” will go back to SWOS and complete the Department Head and Tactical Action Officer courses before heading to a ship as Chief Engineer, Operations Officer, or Combat Systems Officer. In this capacity, you will lead all of the divisions that fall under these particular categories. You will normally serve two 18-month department Head tours, to get a broad range of experience. Your goal during these tours is to earn your Tactical Action Officer qualification. Later, after another shore tour on a command staff, at a war college, or at a military or civilian postgraduate school, those who performed well at sea as Department Head will be selected for command. The Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) community has modified its career path to better support command stability, joint tours with the other services and the global war on terrorism (GWOT). Borrowing a page from naval aviation, SWOs are implementing a single, combined executive officer/commanding officer (XO/CO) command tour. That is, a SWO will now be selected for command, report to the ship as the executive officer, and then “fleet up” to commanding officer. An officer can expect to spend 18 months in each “tour” (in other words, a three year combined command tour).