bridge of the USS Winston S. Churchill

Photo taken on the bridge of the US Navy destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill.

US Navy ‘SWO Bill’ May Bring STCW To Warships

John Konrad
Total Views: 3768
August 13, 2021

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Today, Congressmen Rob Wittman and Mike Gallagher introduced the Surface Warfare Officer Leadership Enhancement (SWOLE) Act that will change how navy ship drivers are trained. Highlights of the bill include new specialized career paths for Surface Warfare Officers (SWO’s), funding to address retention of female ship officers, and new Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) requirements to improve navigation skills and allow SWOs to serve as Merchant Mariners after leaving the Navy.

“The Surface Warfare Community is the backbone of America’s fleet,” said Rep. Wittman. “But recent events and a new report highlight the growing need to better develop talented Surface Warfare Officers as well as to retain that talent through improved retention efforts. The SWOLE Act enacts bold reforms to solve key issues affecting the Surface Warfare Community.”  

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This new report on SWO retention by the Government Accountability Office report found, 65 percent of SWOs surveyed preferred career specialization over the Navy’s jack-of-all-trades approach, where a SWO is expected to be all things to all people. The new bill will give some officers additional time and training to improve ship-handling, Bridge Resource Management, and seamanship skills.

The new act follows in the wake of a new US Congressional study released last week that found toxic culture to be the link between recent casualties aboard ships including the USS Bonhomme Richard fire, as well as the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald collisions. That study, commissioned by Senator Tom Cotton, found a broad consensus across interviewees on numerous cultural issues that impact the morale and readiness of the Navy’s surface force.

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Among the top problems Cotton’s team found was a culture with zero tolerance for risk, a blasé attitude towards ship-handling skills, micromanagement, and a total lack of understanding of journalism and the high levels of influence of new digital media outlets wield today.

“Navy readiness starts with our ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest to serve as Surface Warfare Officers (SWOs). But the Navy’s struggle to retain female SWOs and lack of opportunities for career specialization have hurt our ability to achieve this goal,” said Rep. Gallagher. “This bill takes important steps to reverse these trends.”

The new act is a good start but it does not address the failings of US Navy leadership nor will it fill all the gaps in Navy SWO training. Still, the funding to meet STCW requirements should help Navy bridge teams better understand how merchant ships operate and, in doing so, may help them avoid future collisions at sea. Doing more to retain female ship officers will help bring the Navy in line with the recent surge in support for women by non-military maritime organizations like the IMO and WISTA.

A Fresh Look At Bridge Resource Management

The bill will be debated in the US House of Representatives during the markup of the FY22 defense policy bill, currently scheduled to begin on September 1st.

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