OTC Seals Naval Service Training Command Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps Seaman to Admiral Program Recruit Training Command Website Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps
LDO/CWO Plaque


The warrant officer community is as old as navies themselves. In the distant past, warfare was conducted by the aristocracy whose livelihood depended upon the income from agricultural lands given to them by the king, in exchange for their obligation to provide armed fighting men when called upon. The king or prince might command an entire military expedition, while various aristocrats commanded, as Captains, their own "companies" of men-at-arms. There were also junior officers who would command in "lieu" of the captain if the latter was killed or wounded -- a lieutenant.

Actual fights at sea were rare in the late middle ages, but if ships were needed, they were drafted into military service from traders and merchants. The ship would then be commissioned and a captain placed in command. The land-bound, part-time soldiers knew nothing of piloting, ship handling or navigation. The ship's master, his principal officers and the sailors or "swabbers" were necessary for the success of the operation. As commoners who were employed for their specific skills, these expert seamen were issued royal warrants which bound them to serve the king in their special capacities. Whether the master could be considered a limited duty officer or a commissioned warrant officer is a moot point, as rank, authority and precedence were less precise in those times.

At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the colonies quite logically modeled the nucleus of the naval establishment after the British. Our history records show that on 13 December 1775, Congress agreed to construct thirteen frigates. The grades of officers to lead this force were as follows:

Captains of Ships Boatswains Chaplains
Captains of Marines Gunners Surgeons
Lieutenants of Ships Carpenters Pursers
Lieutenants of Marines Mastersmates Secretaries of the Fleet

Back to Top

Contrary to popular belief, most warrant officers of the 1800's were not sailors who had begun at the bottom of the Navy's ladder and worked their way up. Boatswains, gunners, carpenters and sailmakers were often appointed directly into the Navy after learning their trades in merchant vessels or as privateers. In 1859, most warrant officers had as little as six months service as enlisted men. Some had none at all.

In 1862, the rank of Ensign was introduced. By 1865, the Navy had Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals and Commodores. Master ranked between Ensign and Lieutenant until 1881, when the rank was changed to Lieutenant Junior Grade. From the end of the Civil War, until 1900, warrant officers were boatswains, gunners, carpenters, sailmakers and mates. The duties of the mate were simple: "He will perform duties as assigned by the commanding officer." The mate was junior to all officers and warrant officers, but senior to all enlisted men and to naval cadets, as graduates of Annapolis were then known.

Commissioned warrant grades (the chief warrant officer to "rank with but after ensign") were introduced to the Navy at the turn of the nineteenth century.

By the beginning of World War I, warrant ranks were used to meet the demands of the rapidly developing technology of the time. There remained on active duty only one chief sailmaker, but added to the register were 84 chief pay clerks, 101 pay clerks and 52 acting pay clerks. In the past, pay clerks had received an appointment after having been selected by a commissioned paymaster to work for that officer only. Very often they came directly from civilian life. Warrant pay clerks, on the other hand, had to be chief petty officer before they could apply for promotion.

It was during this period that the responsibilities of the gunner began to change, which eventually led to the creation of several new warrants. The gunner was also assigned the duty of supervising the electrical systems of ships. The original answer for this new specialty requirement was to split the gunner warrant into gunner and gunner(e) who was, despite his insignia, the electrical officer. With the introduction of wireless, gunner(e) was further divided to include gunner(w), which was later changed to gunner(r).

In 1910, Congress authorized the annual promotion of ten warrant officers to the rank of ensign. After World War I, almost all warrant officers and chief warrant officers were former enlisted men. The warrant officers mess was the abode of long service enlisted men who had achieved first class petty officer or chief petty officer status before becoming warrants.

On the eve of World War II, a chief petty officer or first class petty officer could be advanced to warrant if:

a. he was under 35 years of age on the date appointed;

b. he had no proficiency mark lower than 3.4;
c. he was able to read and write English, understood the four rules of arithmetic and proportion, was able to keep accounts of stores and was thoroughly conversant with all instructions and regulations pertaining to the grade for which examined;
d. could pass a professional examination; and
e. had five years of sea duty, at least one of which was in the rate of chief petty officer or first class petty officer.

Back to Top

The demands of World War II forced the creation of several new warrant specialties, and by 1950 there were 12: boatswain, gunner, torpedoman, electrician, radio electrician, machinist, carpenter, ship's clerk, aerographer, photographer, hospital corps (formerly pharmacist) and pay clerk. By the end of the war, approximately one-fourth of the lieutenant commanders, over 1,000 lieutenants and one-third of the lieutenants (junior grade) were either permanent chief warrant officers or permanent enlisted.

By 1948 the Navy realized that it often lost critical skills and knowledge that was learned as enlisted men or warrant officers when these individuals were promoted to commissioned status in the unrestricted line community because, all too often, this "Mustang" officer was not competitive for promotion with other commissioned officers. To retain these skills and to provide a fair competitive position for officers promoted from the ranks, the Limited Duty Officer Program was established.

In 1948, the Limited Duty officer category was established under the Officer Personnel Act of 1947. The community was envisioned as a relatively small, elite group of officers who would retain their specialties acquired as enlisted men and warrant officers and support the unrestricted line community during periods of personnel shortages or when technological advances required. They were not to compete with the unrestricted line officers. Limited duty officers commissioned after inception of the Limited Duty Officer Program through 1956 were given permanent appointments under Title 10 USC, Section 5589. As these permanent limited duty officers progressed through the grade structure, they were given promotion opportunity equivalent to that experienced by unrestricted line officers.

The Defense Reorganization Act of 1949 created four warrant officer grade levels: W1, CW02, CWO3 and CWO4.

Commencing in 1957, all initial appointments to limited duty officer were temporary appointments under Title 10 USC, Section 5596. The input to the program increased markedly beginning in 1957 so that, by 1959, of the 2,502 officers comprising the total strength of the limited duty officer community, 1,148 were temporary officers.

In 1958, the Career Compensation Act was amended to establish pay grades E-8 and E-9. In 1959, the "Williams Board" was convened to study the warrant officer and limited duty officer programs in relation to the new E-8/E-9 pay grades. The board recommended that the limited duty officer program be expanded to meet the shortage of experienced junior officers and that the warrant officer program be concurrently phased out, utilizing senior and master chief petty officers to assume some of their duties. As a result, input to the limited duty officer community was increased, including the selection of warrant officers to limited duty officer status. By the mid-1960's, the limited duty officer (Temporary) structure reached a peak population of about 7,500 officers.

Four years later, in October 1963, the "Settle Board" was convened to restudy the issue. It concluded that the expected functional overlapping of the duties of warrant officers and the new senior enlisted grades had not been demonstrated. The phaseout of warrants had created a void not effectively filled by LDOs and master chiefs -- a void incompatible with the Navy's needs for more, not fewer, officer technical specialists. Accordingly, the warrant officer program was revitalized, with a corresponding reduction in the limited duty officer program. There were no new limited duty officer accessions in FY-66, 67 and 68.

In 1974, a study directed by the Chief of Naval Operations was conducted under the sponsorship of the Bureau of Naval Personnel Career Planning Board. The following recommendations, designed to improve the limited duty officer and chief warrant officer programs and to improve stability in those communities, were approved by the Secretary of the Navy on 5 December 1974:

     a. Retention of both the limited duty officer and chief warrant officer programs, but with functional role definitions developed separately for each.
     b. Separate billet structures for the limited duty officer and chief warrant officer communities, based on the criteria expressed in the new functional role definitions.

     c. Realignment of the limited duty officer and chief warrant officer designators and categories to provide warfare community identification and to facilitate centralized management of these two officer groups.

     d. New procurement and appointment procedures to provide separate paths to either limited duty officer or chief warrant officer directly from enlisted status, as well as the retention of a path to limited duty officer, lieutenant (junior grade) from chief warrant officer. The changes created a younger LDO, capable of promoting to LCDR/CDR well before statutory retirement (30 years total active naval service), and a more seasoned, experienced and capable warrant officer.

In the 1970's, warrant officer (W1) was abolished; qualified enlisted personnel were promoted directly to chief warrant officer, receiving commissions as chief warrant officers, CWO2. In 1980, the requirement that applicants for limited duty officer and chief warrant officer be under 35 years of age was discontinued. Subsequently, master chief petty officers with up to 24 years of service became eligible for promotion to chief warrant officer.

In 1985, Congress lifted the "0-5 cap", authorizing LDO promotions to captain. The first LDO captain was promoted in 1986. By 1991 there were 24 LDO captains on active duty.

As a result of the Warrant Officer Management Act of 1991, the warrant officer grade of CWO5 was authorized, at service secretary discretion, effective 1 February 1992. In 2003, SECNAV decided to implement CWO5, and in 2009, there are about 75 CWO5's.

Over the years, the duties, responsibilities, authority and status of limited duty officers and chief warrant officers have grown from those of common seafarers, reluctantly admitted to officer status by aristocrats, to today's highly respected technical managers and technical specialists, essential to the successful operation of modern naval forces.

Back to Top
Last Modified 4/9/2014
Voting Assistance Refueling in Rough Seas Life is worth living! Click here for your lifeline. ATFP
Join the Navy | US Navy | Privacy Policy notice | FOIA website | Accessibility/Section 508 | Sitemap | Disclaimer | Home
Officer Training Command Newport ~ 1356 Meyerkord Avenue, Newport, R.I. 02841-1641 | Naval Service Training Command is the parent command for Officer Training Command.
This is an official U.S. Navy website. All information on this site is approved by the NSTC Public Affairs Office. | For technical issues contact: NSTC webmaster ~ For all content issues related to this site contact OTC webmaster