The Navy Is Making It Tougher to Earn a Surface-Warfare Officer Pin

Peruvian Lt. Eder Suclla, right, was awared the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification by USS Zephyr (PC 8) Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Hendricks)
Peruvian Lt. Eder Suclla, right, was awared the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) qualification by USS Zephyr (PC 8) Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Hendricks)

In the wake of two deadly collisions, the Navy is cracking down on who can pursue surface-warfare officer qualifications, giving those slated to command ships extra time to hone vital watch skills on the bridge.

The Navy announced sweeping changes to the surface-warfare officer, or SWO, qualification rules this week. The changes are meant to ensure future ship commanding officers are "properly trained and qualified," Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander of naval surface forces, said in a release announcing the new policies.

Only those in line to command ships in the future can pursue SWO qualifications, the announcement states. Navy officials did not respond to Military.com's questions or interview requests about the new rules, but Brown told USNI News that limited-duty officers, chief warrant officers and senior enlisted personnel will no longer be eligible to pursue a SWO pin.

"If you have other designators ... competing for time in the pilothouse to earn their [officer of the deck] letter -- which is the prerequisite for SWO qualifications -- then that really goes against what I'm trying to do in the surface force," Brown told the outlet.

The rules come after 17 sailors aboard two Navy destroyers were killed when their ships collided with other vessels in separate accidents in the Pacific last year. Investigations into the collisions found the accidents were preventable, and that senior officers and sailors standing watch were at fault.

Under the new rules, future ship commanding officers will face less competition for bridge time to practice those skills.

"I really believe that we lost our way in who we allowed to earn those critical qualifications," Brown told USNI. "Fifteen years from now when you see an officer wearing a SWO pin, you're going to know that that officer was at one point on track for command at sea. You'll know it wasn't a qualification that was obtained because you needed it for a promotion board."

Those who aren't in line to command a ship have until Oct. 1 to complete their training and earn a SWO pin.

Going forward, officers pursuing SWO qualifications must be permanently assigned to a commissioned or pre-commissioning Navy ship, the release states. Commanding officers can qualify officers as SWOs only if they are permanently assigned to their ship.

If a SWO officer transfers to another ship, they won't have to redo all of their qualifications. But they will be required to re-qualify "in all applicable watchstations," the release states.

An investigation into the guided-missile destroyer McCain's collision found that several of the sailors on watch leading up to the collision had been temporarily assigned from a Navy cruiser, which has different steering controls. That, investigators found, contributed to the ship making an improper turn.

All ships must now actively manage and maintain Personnel Qualification Standards Plan of Action and Milestones for each officer to ensure they're on track to meet their SWO qualifications.

SWOs must also keep a logbook of the amount of hours spent on the bridge, which will be used when detailing junior officers to their second-division officer and shore tours, according to the release.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ginaaharkins.

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