SWOs command the world’s most capable ships Surface Warfare Officer

America’s Navy has the most modern, advanced fleet of ships in the entire world. The Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs) who control them are trained extensively to maintain and operate these ships, their crews and their systems. Providing direction. Leading by example.

Job Description

As a Surface Warfare Officer, you will have the opportunity to excel as a leader. You could serve as Commanding Officer over an elite crew and be an authority in every aspect of your Navy assignments. Doing any or all of the following:

  • Directing personnel operations aboard Navy vessels, such as aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, amphibious warfare ships, mine warfare ships and frigates
  • Managing shipboard vertical launch systems
  • Using computer displays and advanced technology in battle and ship defense
  • Providing support to Navy expeditionary forces, Theater Air Missile operations, anti-submarine warfare, surface-to-air warfare, and support and supply missions

To become a Surface Warfare Officer, you must have a degree from an accredited four-year U.S. college or university. From there, the leadership skills you possess and hone through your training and experience will help you excel as a member of this vital community.

Specific Responsibilities

Involve yourself in everything from anti-submarine warfare to missile defense. Provide support for Marine Corps and Navy Special Warfare missions. Engage in damage-control training and routine shipboard management. Apply your advanced training and comprehensive knowledge of shipboard operations to command a surface ship.

As a SWO, you may be in charge of any number of shipboard operations and activities while at sea, working with or within any of these specialized forces:

  • Aircraft Carrier Forces: Provide and coordinate air, submarine and surface ship defense for aircraft carriers
  • Cruiser-Destroyer Forces: Provide ship attack and defensive measures with a wide array of missile and fire power capabilities, providing anti-air, -submarine and -surface warfare support
  • Amphibious Forces: Embark and transport vehicles, equipment and personnel for amphibious assault operations
  • Combat-Logistics Forces: Provide combatant ships with fuel, ammunition, food and supplies, and provide repair, maintenance and rescue capabilities through Fleet Support Ships
  • Mine Warfare Forces: Detect, identify and neutralize threats from hostile use of maritime mines

You may also be interested in becoming a Surface Warfare Officer within the prestigious Navy Nuclear community, where you will have the opportunity to work on some of the world’s most powerful nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.

Work Environment

As a Surface Warfare Officer, you will be an authoritative figure on the world’s most powerful surface ships. You will have the opportunity to work at sea and on shore, in a variety of environments. Sea duty could place you aboard ships within the fleet. Shore duty may involve a tour of duty at the Pentagon; a student assignment at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.; or command and management positions at shore bases and stations around the world.

Training & Advancement

Surface Warfare Officers receive extensive training both at sea and in port. Upon completion of Officer Candidate School (OCS), newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officers can expect an advanced training process that includes comprehensive training at sea and ashore.

Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officers will be assigned to a surface ship, leading a team of Sailors responsible for a component of the ship – anything from electronics to weapons to engineering systems. In this setting, Officers are working toward full Surface Warfare qualification. This assignment alternates between deployments, patrols, days in port, maintenance, local operations and leave ashore.

With proven abilities as a Surface Warfare Officer, the next assignment is normally in engineering on a ship at sea.

After completing these initial sea tours, Surface Warfare Officers may be selected to serve on high-level staffs, commands or strategic projects, or they may be selected to work in recruitment. The ultimate goal for many: to one day command their own ships.

Education Opportunities

Education and training are integral, ongoing parts of a career as a Surface Warfare Officer in America’s Navy. As you progress, you will likely have the opportunity to earn advanced degrees, or you may take advantage of the Navy’s Tuition Assistance Program, which pays for a large percentage of accredited college courses and programs. Upon becoming a SWO, you could also consider the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, which allows you to earn a master’s or even a doctoral degree.

Pay Range

Following three years of sea duty, Surface Warfare Officers will earn additional sea pay. If selected as a department head, Surface Warfare Officers can earn up to $75,000 in signing bonuses.


A four-year degree from an accredited U.S. college or university is required to become a Surface Warfare Officer in America’s Navy. There are different ways to become a SWO. If you're a high school student or an undergraduate, you can enter through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) or through the U.S. Naval Academy. Those already having a degree attend Officer Candidate School (OCS), a 12-week Navy school in Newport, RI.

To be an eligible candidate, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be at least 19 years of age and no older than 29 at the time of commissioning
  • Meet the Navy's physical standards

After the Navy

Your unique experience, unmatched leadership skills and unrivaled training as a Surface Warfare Officer will make you highly sought after by employers in the civilian sector. You could easily transfer directly to any number of civilian careers, whether being in executive-level management or high-tech specialty system management.

Also, each year a select few candidates in the Surface Warfare program are offered additional opportunities, like the chance to specialize in areas such as Information Technology (IT) and Oceanography, to become an Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) or to pursue other Navy Officer positions within the Navy's professional communities. If you have skills or interest in these specializations, you may qualify for future placement in these exciting fields.

Consider Your Service Options.

There are different ways that you can commit to serve in America's Navy. Besides full-time opportunities in Active Duty, part-time Reserve positions are also available in this career area.