ATHENA Project Showcase: SWO Service Obligations


In arguably our most controversial project, LTJG James Martin and LTJG Solomon Lu took the crowd’s breath away when they proposed increasing initial Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) obligated service time from five years to ten years.

Before the SWOs in the room at Basic Pizza in San Diego could revolt, the two young officers explained their reasoning.

They argued that, since each year the Surface Warfare community has over 800 accessions, aiming to create approximately 300 Department Heads. They went on to opine that the SWO community was  the dumping ground for low performers, the vast majority of which leave the Navy after their 5 year service obligation.

To fix their identified problem, they proposed the consolidation of Division Officer jobs onboard surface ships from around 21 to around 11. They pitched a three-step plan of action to achieve this goal:

  1. Pass legislation to increase service obligations for SWOs to 10 years or the completion of 2 Department Head tours. Since Congress has enacted 10 USC § 6959, it will require new legislation from Congress to extend SWO service obligation, just as they did in 1989 to extend Pilot/NFO service obligations (10 USC §653).
  2. Reduce the number of accessions into Surface community to match the number of needed Department Heads, factoring in some attrition. Selection can then be much more rigorous, instituting standards that make Surface Warfare the most competitive community in the Navy.
  3. Institute billet specific training for all Division Officers.

Along with these steps, the young officers proposed reducing Naval Academy class sizes, potentially saving tens of millions of dollars every year.


LTJG Solomon Lu and LTJG James Martin defend their idea to the interested Athenians

With some quick math, LTJG Martin and LTJG Lu calculated a savings of $1.7B over 10 years under this plan, factoring in the approximate cost of training an officer and cost savings from the salaries of officers that would not have to be paid.

Their pitch theorized that the reduction of officers and consolidation of jobs would build a more proficient and focused cadre of officers in the surface fleet.

“Restructuring the Surface Warfare Officer detailing process would both save money and make more a more streamlined and effective Officer Corps,” LTJG Martin said. “It’s widely recognized that we have twice as many Division Officers as needed in order to fill the quotas for Department Head. The only result is less satisfaction with jobs that have little clear responsibility leading to higher attrition, exacerbating, rather then solving our shortage of Department Heads.”

LTJG Martin and LTJG Lu are currently developing their proposal into a white paper for publication.


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