The Navy submarine force is powered by nuclear energy – and represents some of the most modern, efficient and effective weapons in the military arsenal. Imagine being in your early to mid-twenties and assuming control of a $1.5 billion nuclear-powered submarine. This is a reality for the Submarine Officers in charge of all that goes into driving, powering, arming and operating the Navy’s Fleet of attack, ballistic missile and guided missile submarines.
The stealth technology and advanced warfare capabilities of these vessels, magnified by the sheer aptitude of those at the helm, has led to years of successful conflict engagement and deterrence. If you have the educational background, the ambition and the mind-set to be part of one the most tight-knit groups within America’s Navy, think about the exciting and demanding career of a Nuclear Submarine Officer.
Submarines are the cornerstone of the Navy’s conflict avoidance and resolution, and naturally, the Officers who man these ships are held to the highest of standards and have extraordinary roles and responsibilities. Only a select group of disciplined and committed Officers are given the opportunity to lead departments up to an entire crew, commanding some of the most technologically advanced equipment in the world.
Initial time down this career path is spent developing the essential foundation of advanced nuclear training. After mastering the engineering spaces and the theories behind nuclear power comes the process of earning qualification as a Submarine Officer on nuclear-powered submarines. The time spent on board is devoted to overseeing the day-to-day operations, managing everything from communications and navigation to armament capabilities and the tactical deployment of the submarine.
Submarine Officers ensure that all systems run smoothly. That means they could be in charge of any of the following:
- Operating a nuclear reactor and nuclear propulsion system
- Maintaining onboard weapons systems
- Managing atmosphere control and fire control
- Driving the vessel and charting its position
- Operating communications and intelligence equipment
Whether on a covert, classified mission or a typical day of operation, as a Submarine Officer you’ll gain valuable lifelong experiences, advanced nuclear training and high-level responsibility from day one.
Interested in submarine service? Learn more about life on a sub.
Submarine Officers are exposed to a variety of different work environments – from academic settings to training on prototype units to eventual sea tours and shore assignments. The time spent on submarines involves deployments of a few to several months at a time, requiring the obvious adjustment to life on a space-limited submarine. Here, however, you will find technology, surroundings and experience that rate among the most unique and impressive in the Navy today.
Once fully qualified, members may go on to hold positions that involve instructing, advising, consulting, recruiting or even commanding a submarine. And whatever your duties, wherever they take you, it’s important to note that much of the work is highly classified and demands the utmost discretion.
Training and Advancement
Upon graduation from college, the formal training process of becoming an Officer in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program is officially underway. For those going the Submarine Officer (Nuclear) route, the first step is Officer Candidate School (OCS) – a 12-week course in Newport, Rhode Island, that is tailored to train and prepare college graduates to become commissioned as Navy Line Officers.
Upon completion of OCS, newly commissioned Officers move on to receive the advanced training that is at the core of Navy Nuclear Propulsion. This includes an academic curriculum that is recognized as one of the most difficult in the world – rivaling the top-notch nuclear programs at universities such as Harvard and MIT. And experientially, the hands-on application of what is learned – in settings at sea and ashore – is in a class by itself.
Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS)
Through Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC), Officers will attend Nuke Power School in Charleston, South Carolina. This 24-week graduate-level course of intensive study covers a variety of science and technology-based subjects from ordinary and partial differential equations to thermodynamics to reactor dynamics. NNPS provides the foundation of knowledge necessary for a theoretical understanding of nuclear propulsion.
Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU)
Often referred to as Prototype, this 26-week phase of the learning process involves hands-on training at one of two NPTUs – in either Charleston, South Carolina, or Ballston Spa, New York – where there are several reactor prototypes in operation. Here, Officers apply the concepts learned at Nuke Power School – studying systems and components of a nuclear propulsion plant and working with all the associated systems of a full-scale operating plant. The training culminates with qualification as Engineering Officer of the Watch.
Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC)
During this 12-week course that takes place in New London, Connecticut, Officers learn all about submarine operations, including safety, damage control, seamanship and the responsibilities of leading an advanced submarine crew as a division Officer, before reporting to an assigned submarine. Officers may receive an additional six weeks of advanced training through the strategic weapons system course at Trident Training Facilities in either Kings Bay, Georgia, or Bangor, Washington.
First Sea Tour
Next comes an assignment as a Division Officer on a submarine, managing a team of highly trained Enlisted Submariners. Here, Officers are working toward a personal submarine qualification program that culminates in being designated as “Qualified in Submarines” – earning the right to wear the coveted Gold Dolphins insignia and take on all the responsibilities that go with it. This is a three-year tour alternating between deployments, patrols, days in port, maintenance, local operations and leave.
After the first sea tour comes a shore assignment lasting approximately two years. In this role, Officers fill positions anywhere from Nuclear Power School to Prototype to Submarine School. Others may be selected to serve on high-level staffs, commands and strategic projects, or they may elect to work in recruitment positions or further their education at Naval Postgraduate School (NPS). The ultimate goal for many: to one day command their own submarine at sea.
For qualifying college graduates, Navy Nuclear Propulsion is a door leading to industry leadership and lifelong learning. Groundbreaking research and high-level civilian collaborations. Work that extends far beyond the military to impact the world at large.
For current undergraduate students who meet the prerequisite background, especially those pursuing preferred majors such as mathematics, engineering, physics or chemistry, there’s all of the above to look forward to – plus the chance to get paid while finishing school.
If accepted into the Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate (NUPOC) program as an aspiring Submarine Officer (Nuclear), you can:
- Receive salary and benefits up to $168,300 and start receiving this funding up to 30 months prior to college graduation
- Be eligible to receive a $15,000 selection bonus once accepted into the NUPOC program plus an additional $2,000 bonus upon completion of nuclear propulsion training
- Enjoy military health-care benefits while you are a student in the program
And once out of school, you’ll have a position waiting as a respected professional and Officer affiliated with one of the most accomplished nuclear programs on earth. Following the Submarine Officer (Nuclear) path to an advanced education and accelerated hands-on experience like nowhere else.
Because of the exclusive nature of the NUPOC program and the magnitude of the responsibilities members will take on from a young age, requirements to become a candidate are comprehensive – and competition for acceptance is great.
The NUPOC program is open to both men and women. The following basic qualification criteria apply.
Age and Health
To be an eligible candidate, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be at least 19 years of age and less than 29 years of age at the time of commissioning – waivers up to age 31 may be available for Submarine Officer (Nuclear) positions
- Meet the physical standards of the Navy
Candidates must be graduates or students of an accredited college or university in the United States or in a United States territory pursuing a BA, BS or MS (preferably majoring in mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry or other technical areas). Those still in school may apply as early as their sophomore year of college and must have:
- Completed one academic year of calculus
- Completed one academic year of calculus-based physics
- A competitive GPA and a minimum grade of “C” in all technical courses
All students who apply to the NUPOC program go through a rigorous screening process and are then selected for a personal interview with the Director of Naval Reactors in Washington, D.C.
The first part of the interview process focuses on technical questions from calculus, physics and other technical courses. The majority of the questions are from calculus and physics, and you may be asked questions from other topics in your major. This part of the interview process typically lasts 30–40 minutes and contains two to four major questions per interview.
The second part of the interview process involves meeting with Admiral John Richardson, the current director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion program. During this interview, he will review your transcripts and the evaluations from your technical interviews, and he will assess your communication skills, interests and motivation for the program. Admiral Richardson personally selects all prospective Nuclear Officers.
If you’re a qualified Nuclear Propulsion Officer candidate, the Navy offers a two-day VIP trip that allows you to immerse yourself in this world. Tour the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, or walk through the torpedo room of a submarine. Interact with current and prospective Officers and ask questions. Learn about the rich history of the Navy and its nuclear program. This is a chance to learn firsthand what it may be like to launch your future as a Nuclear Officer in the Navy.
After the Navy
What consistently sets those with experience in the Nuclear Navy apart is focused intellect with the ability to think outside the box. Unrelenting passion to answer the questions others find incomprehensible. And demonstrated leadership – whatever the challenge, whatever form it takes.
America’s Navy accelerates the development of those with intelligence, character and motivation and channels all that into real-world applications. Skills are nurtured. Creative problem solving is encouraged. Opportunities to grow and control the path your career takes are readily available. Whether it’s continuing education, world-class facilities or professional funding, the infrastructure is already in place.
After fulfilling an initial commitment of four to five years, you could use your invaluable experience to pursue esteemed leadership, research, teaching and advisory positions in the Navy. Or you could go on to pursue any of a multitude of possibilities that await former Nuclear Officers in the civilian sector.