Legislation calling for surface warfare officer specialization is dead in the water

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM).

Language in the U.S. House of Representatives’ fiscal 2022 defense policy bill will mandate more scrutiny of the Navy’s surface warfare officer community but will not include a provision mandating that SWOs be assigned specialized career paths.

The Navy’s SWO pipeline has remained largely unchanged for a century, emphasizing a jack-of-all-trades, generalist experience as opposed to a SWO specializing in engineering or combat systems.

A bill introduced in August, the Surface Warfare Officer Leadership Enhancement, or SWOLE, Act, sought to mandate that the sea service provide these specialized paths.

But representatives for Virginia Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, one of the act’s sponsors, confirmed Thursday that the provision was stricken from the act before it was folded into the overall House defense bill.

A Government Accountability Office report on SWO retention released earlier this year found 65 percent of SWOs surveyed supported career specialization.

But Big Navy maintains that SWOs must be generalists because a ship’s commanding officer needs to be knowledgeable about all parts of the ship.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at a Defense One event Thursday that he doesn’t support SWO specialization.

“We’re trying to produce commanding officers that have a broad understanding,” he said. “I’m convinced that’s the right model for the United States Navy.”

The parts of the SWOLE Act that made it into the defense bill include more oversight and tracking of the SWO community, including a progress report due a year after the bill’s passage outlining actions taken to improve SWO retention, particularly among women.

The bill would also mandate that the Navy report how it is addressing the issue of too many junior SWOs competing for too few training opportunities on ships, a problem laid bare in this year’s GAO report.

It would also require the Navy to set up a system in the next year by which SWOs serving in a bridge or engine department can earn credentials that they can take with them to the merchant mariner world should they opt to leave the sea service.

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at [email protected]

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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.