Surface Warfare Officer Program—Active Duty or Reserve (2022)

Last Updated on September 15, 2022

This guide provides information that will help you with your decision to become a Navy Surface Warfare Officer.

A Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) is an Unrestricted Line Officer who is largely responsible for the operations of Navy ships. SWOs specifically lead the ship’s crew in all aspects of shipboard operations.

The Navy designator code for Surface Warfare Officer is 1110. Those who are assigned to initial training billets are designated as 1160.

Furthermore, these officers are involved in almost every area of the Navy’s mission – even those that are not generally carried out at sea.

Now, let us get into more detail.

What Does A Surface Warfare Officer Do?

When people talk about “Naval Officers,” they are usually talking about Surface Warfare Officers, who are the leaders and onboard operations specialists in control of naval surface warships. They are in charge of navigation, safety, engineering, combat systems, and all other vital responsibilities required to run and maintain an armed ship.

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SWOs work in a variety of settings, both at sea and on land, and are constantly at the forefront of Navy leadership.

They usually perform their Sea Duty on ships from the worldwide Navy fleet. This is their major responsibility — to guide Sailors at sea.

Shore Duty can include full-time graduate education assignments at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, a tour at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, or management posts at shore stations across the world.

SWOs study and apply the vital leadership and technical skills of junior executives and professional Naval Officers on the latest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, and many others.

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As a SWO, you will be in command of some of America’s best men and women, as well as highly experienced experts and millions of dollars in high-tech equipment.

You will be in charge of pushing and encouraging your team to succeed – gaining flexibility, self-discipline, problem solving, and analysis while building complete confidence in your own talents.

These abilities will prepare you for the ultimate challenge: leadership of a Navy ship at sea.

The video below illustrates what Surface Warfare Officers perform in greater detail.

Initial Sea Tour For Surface Warfare Officers

Graduates of the Navy OCS, US Naval Academy, and NROTC are stationed for 6 to 15 months aboard an operational ship to obtain on-the-job experience and achieve first shipboard qualifications.

Individuals will undergo specialist schools for further advanced training en route to their ship or immediately after arriving aboard to properly prepare officers for their shipboard jobs.

Following initial qualifications, SWOs attend the Basic Division Officer Training (BDOC) – a five-week seminar-based course. 

SWOs get essential experience with ship handling simulators, interactive computer-based combat operations scenarios, damage control trainers, and engineering concepts and programs during this critical period of training.

Officers return to their ship after successfully completing BDOC to acquire their Surface Warfare Officer certification (SWO pin) and finish their initial sea tour.

Typical Ship Assignments

Surface Warfare Officers are assigned to one of five groups of ships:

1) Aircraft Carrier Forces

Provide shore bombardment and air defense from conventional and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

2) Cruiser-Destroyer Forces

Combat ships that have a diverse variety of missile and firepower capabilities that assist anti-submarine, anti-air, and surface warfare operations, as well as escort and shore bombardment.

3) Amphibious Forces

Embark and transport vehicles, supplies, and personnel in preparation for amphibious assault operations.

4) Combat-Logistics Forces

Supply combatant ships with fuel, ammunition, food, and spare parts via underway replenishment ships, as well as repair, maintenance, and rescue via fleet support ships.

5) Mine Warfare Forces

Detect and eliminate mine-related hazards to maritime forces.

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How To Become A Surface Warfare Officer

To become a SWO, applicants must be American citizens who are 19 to 29 years old with at least a bachelor’s degree and a GPA of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale. SWO applicants must also score at least a 42 on the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) exam.

If you are interested in becoming a Surface Warfare Officer, you must first be aware that earning a commission in the United States Navy is very competitive.

You must determine if you meet the initial requirements to obtain a commission in the United States Navy.

Note that this is slightly different from applying for a civilian management position because Surface Warfare Officers directly affect national security. Know that you will be held to a higher standard of performance and behavior compared to civilian counterparts.

If that did not deflate you, you may have the right sense of pride and integrity for this job.

Here are the step-by step procedures to become a Navy SWO along with the various Navy Surface Warfare Officer requirements:

Step 1: Determine your eligibility

You must first determine your eligibility to compete for a Navy SWO position. The basic eligibility requirements for the Navy SWO program are listed below.

The following requirements are current as of March 2021, per the Navy Personnel Command. No updates have been issued so far.

Basic Eligibility for Navy SWO

CitizenshipYou must be a United States citizen, either by birth or naturalization.
GenderThe Surface Warfare Officer program is open for both men and women.
AgeYou must be at least 19 years old and must not be older than 32 years old upon commissioning. Maximum age may be adjusted for prior active duty service.
EducationYou must have at least a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited college or university and at least 2.5 cumulative grade point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale.
PhysicalYou must pass a physical and medical screening, typically conducted during the application process.
AptitudeYou must pass the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) with a score of at least 40.
Source: Navy Personnel Command (March 2021)
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Step 2: Prepare your professional resume

If you have not prepared a current resume or curriculum vitae, it is best to start now. Once you contact your local recruiter, they will ask you for your current resume before you can apply for Navy SWO positions.

Your local officer recruiter may even ask you for a resume that is signed and dated by hand.

Step 3: Contact local officer recruiter

You then must contact your local officer recruiter. They will be able to provide you with the current Navy SWO position availability, and any other nuanced requirements for the upcoming Navy SWO selection board.

The recruiter will ask you to provide basic identification documents as proof of eligibility (eg. birth certificate, passport, social security card, etc.), along with your college transcripts and current resume.

Step 4: Take the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR)

Once the officer recruiter verifies your basic eligibility for the SWO program, they will schedule you to take the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) exam.

Again:

You must pass the Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) with a score of at least 40 in order to qualify for the Navy SWO program.

The most crucial requirement that you can fully control is your OAR score. It is the primary objective criteria upon which all applicants are compared against.

To maximize your chances of obtaining an exceptional OAR score, we only recommend this OAR Study Guide for your success. All others are mediocre at best.

OAR Test Prep

Step 5: Complete Navy NASIS

Prior to commissioning, a National Agency Check, Local Check inquiry, or its equivalent must be completed.

The Navy Accessions Security Information System (NASIS) collects information from prospective Naval Officers in order to launch personal security investigations for all Navy personnel. 

To begin an inquiry, the information for a security clearance investigation is submitted to the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS). 

NASIS is the Navy’s data collecting mechanism for security clearances, and it communicates with JPAS.

Prior to commissioning, all future Navy Officers must complete the SF-86 request for security clearance and have an open investigation. 

Your recruiter will provide you guidance on how to log-in to your NASIS account. You must complete this as accurately as possible.

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Step 6: Complete Physical Exam at MEPS

Once you submit all medical paperwork to your officer recruiter, they will schedule you for your full physical exam at MEPS.

MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Stations) are joint-service facilities run by the Department of Defense that employ both military and civilian personnel. 

Furthermore, MEPS evaluates applicants based on their physical qualities, intelligence, and moral standards as defined by each branch of military service.

Hotel accommodation may be available for MEPS upon request.

Step 7: Acquire professional references

Navy SWO program applicants may acquire endorsements from Senior Navy Officers or senior enlisted, whether active duty, reserve, or retired, to be included in the application.

Prior or current work supervisors or college professors are typical references of Navy Officer applicants.  

Step 8: Write a motivational statement

The Officer Selection Board receives complete information about you from the Application Processing and Summary Record (APSR).

Within the APSR form, there is space to write a motivational statement. You must ensure that your motivational statement fits within the allotted space in the APSR form.

Your motivational statement should answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to be a Navy SWO?
  • Why do you want to be a Naval Officer?
  • What do you offer to the Navy?
  • Why should the selection board choose you?

Step 9: Complete application paperwork

At this point, your officer recruiter will present you with some paperwork that are required to be submitted with your SWO program application.

Complete these forms as accurately and promptly as you can.

Once complete, your application for the Navy SWO program will be submitted to the Navy Surface Warfare Officer selection board.

Selection results typically are released 30 to 45 days after the Navy Surface Warfare Officer selection board convening date.

Surface Warfare Officer Training

Officer Candidate School

Prospective officers attend Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) – approximately 13 weeks of Navy orientation courses in Newport, RI.

Navy OCS develops your professional knowledge of the Navy and helps you make the transition from civilian life to the Navy.

Apply as early as one year before you graduate from college, as openings are limited and fill quickly.

Academic courses, military training and physical fitness training at OCS are difficult and intense. You will work hard, so self-discipline, physical conditioning, and good study habits are required.

Course subjects include naval operations, orientation and administration. Other study areas are Navy history and the roles of strategic deterrence, sea control, power projection and presence in controlling the seas during conflicts and maintaining freedom of the seas during peace.

Before Navy OCS graduation and commissioning as a Navy officer, you will receive a ship assignment. This assignment begins after Phase II training.

Also Read: Navy OCS Guide for Officer Applicants

Surface Warfare Officers School

The Surface Warfare Officers School Command (SWOS) is the Surface Warfare “Center for Excellence,” where officers and senior enlisted leaders refine their leadership, management, and professional abilities throughout their careers. 

The aim of the SWOS is to “offer a continuum of professional education and training that equips officers, enlisted engineers, and quartermasters to service at sea.” 

The fundamental concepts of SWOS professional development are to gain perspective for sea duty assignments that lead to Command-at-Sea. 

The frequency with which we obtain professional military education at important milestones in a Surface Warfare Officer’s career is a defining feature of the Surface Warfare community. 

The goal of this training continuum is to keep the leadership up-to-date on conventional tasks and responsibilities, as well as to educate us on the most recent developments in the geopolitical and operational environment. 

Basic and Advanced Division Officer Courses

This tour begins with the introductory Basic and Advanced Division Officer Courses (BDOC/ADOC), which culminate in the development of the Division Officer and Officer of the Deck. 

BDOC is an 8-week course of instruction intended to equip new Division Officers with the basic training they need to succeed when they first go aboard ship. 

The program teaches division-level administration, engineering, leadership, and damage control. It also provides hands-on training in navigation, seamanship, and ship handling. 

ADOC varies differently in that it emphasizes the Basic Course fundamentals and connects them with fleet experience after some time aboard ship. 

More time is spent in the classroom and on simulators building the consummate professional Officer of the Deck (OOD) and preparing the Division Officer for further credentials in naval warfare and engineering.

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The advent of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which needs a specialized training paradigm, was a recent advance in the Division Officer course. 

SWOS’s legacy education is modeled after the undergraduate and graduate academic environments, including lecture, self-study, and assessment. 

With the addition of LCS to the fleet, a new Train to Qualify (T2Q) concept evolved. 

This approach employs simulation and off-hull training settings to improve knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to accomplish responsibilities within a certain watch station or role. 

T2Q capitalizes on the delivery of individual ready-to-operate high-cost, high-risk systems with limited tolerance for errors, such as the LCS, by drawing on best practices from the naval aviation and civilian marine industries.

SWOS’s LCS simulators simulate the bridge environment, including exact control and seating location. 

In order to be the OOD of an LCS, the person in charge of the ship must be able to run the ship without help from a large and often more skilled bridge staff.


Navy Reserve Surface Warfare Officer Program

This is your opportunity to have it all.

You will discover firsthand how a part-time commitment yields long-term outcomes and rewards.

Take advantage of the same training and opportunities that active-duty personnel do.

Set a goal for yourself to reach the same high standards and requirements.

You will be a fully integrated part of America’s Navy, and as a Navy Reserve Officer, you will offer the critical leadership required to protect national security and promote our country’s interests across the globe.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve your nation while advancing your civilian career.

You will have access to excellent training and leadership development opportunities, which will help you advance in both the Navy and your civilian job.

You will be assigned to higher-level management positions ahead of your civilian peers.

The U.S. Navy will work with you to make your reserve time as flexible as possible. It really represents the finest of both worlds. You serve your nation while being loyal to yourself.

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Serve in the Navy Reserve as a Surface Warfare Officer

America’s Navy is the world’s most technologically and tactically sophisticated defensive maritime force.

The men and women of the U.S. Navy operate around the clock to preserve America’s interests.

The men and women who make up the elite organization known as Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) are at the heart of these naval operations.

They are the men and women in charge of the U.S. Navy’s diverse and formidable surface ships.

Surface ships, which include aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates, support ships, and others, form the Navy’s backbone.

Navy Surface Warfare…

… is the foundation for maritime domination.

… handles the complete spectrum of Navy tasks.

… provides anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), land attack, theater air missile defense (TAMD), and support for Marine Corps amphibious assault operations and special operations objectives.

SWOs are the commanders of the world’s most powerful ships, supervising professional and highly educated Sailors in shipboard operations and maintenance.

SWO training may lead to and immediately boost civilian jobs in executive-level management and many high-tech specialty systems.

As a Naval Reserve SWO, you will have a lot of freedom and options. Because of the nature of America’s Naval Reserve Force, our SWOs often operate in sectors, localities, and jobs that are not easily accessible to individuals on Active Duty.

You will be part of an elite group of ship drivers and ship fighters in charge of onboard maritime operations and activities for a variety of platforms such as Aircraft Carriers, Cruisers, Destroyers, Amphibious ships, Fleet Support Ships, Combat-Logistics Support ships, and Minesweepers, among many other surface vessels.

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Serve Our Country Part-Time

Navy Surface Warfare Officers thinking about separating from active duty should seriously consider transferring from full-time to part-time naval service in the Surface Naval Reserve Component.

Obligations to family…

Aspirations for a career…

The desire to settle down and become established…

These are the reasons many SWOs depart active service.

However, in the Naval Reserve, you may do all the above while still pursuing a naval career.

In the Naval Reserve, you may:

  • Pursue a professional path other than the military.
  • Choose where you want to live and where you want to serve.
  • Enjoy the same liberties that civilian life provides.
  • Keep most of the perks you received while on active duty.
  • Continue to accumulate points toward retirement.

At the same time, you may enjoy the feeling of community that only naval duty can provide; serve your nation while continuing to pursue your own interests; and, with flexible drilling alternatives, fulfill your yearly responsibilities on weekdays – not just weekends – as your civilian job schedule allows.

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Service Benefits

As a Naval Officer in the United States Navy Reserve, you will lead men and women who have vowed to protect their country.

It is a tremendous duty – and a tremendous privilege. Of course, the rewards of overcoming such a difficulty are enormous.

For individuals who have previously served in the military, America’s Naval Reserve allows you to keep your rank and earn points toward retirement.

Service provides a feeling of pride and achievement for newly commissioned junior officers, while also allowing you to develop the technical and leadership abilities necessary to further your civilian career.

In exchange for your devotion and commitment, the Naval Reserve will give you with the following perks that will benefit both your military and civilian lives:

  • Paid weekend drill once a month
  • Two weeks of training necessary every year (paid travel may be required)
  • Financial aid for education
  • Be eligible for VA home loans
  • Low-cost insurance choices, including life insurance coverage of up to $400,000
  • You and your family will have access to the military commissary and the Navy Exchange.
  • Why Officers with in-demand skill sets may be eligible for special salary incentives at
  • Access to Officers’ Clubs across the globe.
  • Retirement benefits
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How can I get started?

If you are presently on active duty and want to become a drilling Reservist, contact the Career Transition Office at cto.officer@navy.mil or (901) 874-4192 to get started.

If you are presently in the Inactive Ready Reserve or have been off active service for over six months, you must contact a Navy Officer Recruiter to affiliate with the Naval Reserve Component.

You may find an Officer Recruiter near you by visiting www.navy.com and clicking on the

More Information

If you want more information about becoming a Surface Warfare Officer, the next logical step is to contact a Naval Officer Recruiter.

Let us start figuring out how you can benefit from becoming a Navy SWO – or if it is even the right career move for you.

If you are a current college student, the Baccalaureate Degree Completion Program might be useful to you.

Others also read more information from our articles about other closely related Navy Officer jobs such as the Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer program and the Naval Flight Officer program.

Hope you found this helpful to your career planning.

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