The qualification requirements for the Surface Warfare designation for both officers and enlisted personnel have undergone numerous revisions since they were introduced in 1975 and 1978, respectively.
Not all officers are eligible to qualify for the Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) designation. Presently, the only commissioned officers eligible are those with the Surface Warfare 111X or Special Operations 114X designators or who are in training for those designators, as well as officers who have laterally transferred into the Surface Warfare designator. OPNAVINST 1412.2H, which details the SWO qualification requirements, also contains a list of Limited Duty Officer and Chief Warrant Officer designators that are eligible, but not all of them are still applicable due to changes the Navy has made and continues to make to both the LDO and CWO programs.
While LDOs and CWOs are strongly encouraged to earn the SWO qualification, it’s not a requirement. For officers in the 116X and 119X training designators, however, SWO qualification is not only mandatory, but also must be completed within their first 18 months of service aboard a ship (there are some circumstances that alter that time frame).
Only graduates of the Surface Warfare Officer School’s Basic Division Officer Course are eligible for the SWO designation. Over a two-month, prospective SWO candidates will take over 200 hours of courses in Maritime Warfare, Officer Fundamentals and Leadership, Engineering, Damage Control, Rules of the Road, and NSS (Navigation, Seamanship, and Ship handling), as well as spend 30 hours in the Conning Officer Virtual Environment simulator. (Surface LDOs and CWOs may satisfy this requirement by completing the Fundamentals and Systems sections of the SWO Personnel Qualification Standards.)
Other requirements for officers seeking SWO designation include completing various Watchstation assignments and PQS (Basic Damage Control, Small Boat Officer, SWO Engineering), and of course serving as a commissioned officer on surface ship in the U.S. Navy, specifically being assigned to permanent duty for at least nine months.
The qualifications for the Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS) specialist designation were originally laid out in OPNAVINST 1412.4, subsequently updated in June, 1998 to 1412.D. However, OPNAVINST 1414.9 canceled all previous instructions regarding the ESWS qualification and made warfare qualification mandatory for all Sailors serving at a qualifying warfare command. That instruction also stated that warfare sponsors, or Type Commanders, are responsible for establishing qualifications, and that all enlisted Sailors would have no more than 30 months earn the designation.
The Surface Warfare breast insignia is issued in gold for officers and in silver for enlisted Sailors.