The United States Navy’s program of underwater surveillance is one of its most closely guarded secrets, so it’s understandable that the eligibility requirements for qualification as an Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS) specialist are extraordinarily strict. OPNAVINST 1020.5A states that only officers and enlisted personnel permanently assigned to an IUSS command as approved by the Type Commander are eligible to even attempt to qualify for this coveted badge. (The exceptions are members from other branches of U.S. military service and personnel from foreign militaries, but they too must be on permanent assignment to IUSS commands—and foreign militaries have restricted information access).

This OPNAVINST was released in 1998, the same year that the Navy merged Sailors in the Ocean System Technician rating into the Sonar Technician rating. Ocean System Technicians had worked with the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System, comprised of a Sound Surveillance System, a Rapidly Deployable Surveillance System, and a Surveillance Towed Array System. One reason that the standards for IUSS specialists are so stringent is the 1985 scandal involving Chief Petty Officer John Anthony Walker, passed data regarding the Sound Surveillance System to the Soviets back in 1985.

Both enlisted personnel and officers must be recommended for the position of IUSS specialist by the chain of command; final approval is up to the commanding officer, and candidates must have at least two full years of service under their belts, with 12 months spent in continuous IUSS command duty. Trait grades of 3.0 or higher for two reporting periods in a row are required before candidates can begin the qualification program.

The entire set of qualification requirements are listed in the aforementioned OPNAVINST. The IUSS breast insignia, consisting of a sea horse and a trident (a trident was used on the old Ocean System Technician rating badge), is issued in gold to officers and in silver to enlisted personnel. Achieving this qualification is far from an everyday affair, and Naval Operations suggest that it should be recognized at some type of ceremony and that its award should be included in the awardee’s fitness report (officers) or evaluation report (enlisted).

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