Career path

Bowman Scholar Program

Bowman Scholars



Nuke Power






Submariner Career Path Information


The fundamental goal of the nuclear trained submarine officer is to develop the professional skill and operational background to command a nuclear submarine. The achievement of this goal is accomplished through a definite series of professional qualifications, advanced training and operational sea experience.


Upon completion of Nuclear Power School and Nuclear Prototype, you will be assigned to a submarine. Prior to reporting to your first submarine, you will attend a 12-week Submarine Officer Basic Course in New London, Connecticut. This period of instruction will provide you an opportunity to learn the theory and principles of submarine operation and control, the basic administrative responsibilities of a division officer, the theory of the submerged fire control problem and weapons systems, and the basic fundamentals of submarine operations and tactics. Some officers may attend the 6 week strategic weapons system course at either the Trident training Facility in Kings Bay, GA or Bangor, Washington.

Upon arriving at your first submarine, you will probably be assigned as an engineering department division officer and will begin qualification as Engineering Officer of the Watch. Additionally, you will commence submarine qualification. This is the first of the professional qualifications which you will complete. Normally this qualification requires 12 to 15 months of operational experience. Qualification in submarines requires qualification on each of the major officer watch stations: Engineering Officer of the Watch, Diving Officer of the Watch, Officer of the Deck, and in-port Duty Officer. Demonstration of theoretical and practical knowledge before a board of submarine commanding officers, and an underway demonstration of operational competence culminate in this most important achievement for a submarine junior officer.

The first at-sea assignment is normally 36 months in duration. For a small number of volunteers, the opportunity exists to split tour. The split tours consist of about 2 years on an operational SSN or SSBN followed by a 2 year tour in new construction or overhaul.

Prior to going to your first shore tour, you will be required to complete qualification as Engineer Officer of a nuclear ship. This qualification is the second important professional goal. It is achieved by passing a comprehensive technical examination administered by the Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. You will normally complete your Engineer Officer qualification about the 24 months point of your JO tour. If you were trained in strategic weapons systems, you should attempt to also complete Strategic Weapons Officer qualification. This is not a requirement at this point; but highly desirable. Qualification is achieved by completion of a qualification card, a written examination, and a comprehensive oral board.

A few selected volunteers will rotate ashore at the 2 year point to instructor billets at the Nuclear Prototypes. These officers have normally completed the Engineer Officer qualification requirements, or will complete Engineer Officer qualification within one year of reporting to the prototype. Requirements for this duty are as follows:

  • served two years at sea; one year in the engineering department;
  • qualified in submarines
  • stood in the upper half of Nuclear Power School and
  • Prototype (waiverable on a case basis); and recommended by the Commanding Officer


The first shore assignment normally occurs after 2 1/2 to 3 years at sea. Many junior officers going ashore will fill shore billets at Nuclear Power School, Prototype, Submarine School, and group and squadron staffs. Others will fill important billets at the Naval Academy, NROTC units, recruiting districts, or will attend Naval Postgraduate School (NPGS). Other billets are available is such diverse areas as intelligence, overseas submarine staffs and major Washington area staffs including Naval Military Personnel Command, Strategic Projects and OPNAV.

These shore tours are 2 years in length and will be followed by an at-sea department head tour.


The second sea tour is an assignment as a department head. These assignments include:

  • Engineer Officer on an SSN or SSBN,
  • Navigator/Operations Officer on an SSN or SSBN and
  • Weapons Officer on an SSN or SSBN.

The department head tour is preceded by duty under instruction at the Submarine Officer Advanced Course (SOAC) at the Naval Submarine School in New London, Connecticut. SOAC is a 22 week course of instruction which provides submarine qualified officers with advanced in-depth training in the following areas: Shipboard Administration, Sonar, Electronic Warfare, Navigation, Weapons Systems, Weapons Employment Systems, Advanced Submarine Tactics and Weapons Employment, ASW and ASUW Operations, Communications and Operations, Leadership and Management Education Training. 

The primary emphasis is placed on instruction and practical work in the tactical employment of the submarine and associated weapons systems. Officers who attend the school are issued permanent change of station orders. Attendance at SOAC requires an agreement to remain on active duty for 24 months after completion of the course.

Officers may be detailed to a "split" department head tour - that is, two tours (total length 4 years) in different billets to maximize professional experience prior to assignment as Executive Officer.

Each department head is challenged to prove himself as a submarine warfare expert, administrator and personnel manager. Performance demonstrated as a department head will provide the primary basis for competing for promotion to lieutenant commander and for selection as Executive Officer.

During the department head tour, you should complete requirements for command qualification. This qualification is the third professional goal. Successful completion of this qualification is predicated upon demonstrating the maturity, professional competence, and leadership required to be a Commanding Officer. The Squadron Commander convenes a board to evaluate each candidate through underway and in-port examinations. The Submarine Force Commander grants final approval as "Qualified for Command of Submarines".

Generally, by the completion of the department head tour, you should be experienced in the operation of both SSNs (attack submarines) and SSBNs (ballistic missile firing submarines).


Officers then rotate to a shore duty assignment after completion of their department head tour(s). This tour will be 2 years in duration. Many of the billets available are involved in the support of the Submarine Force on the staffs of the Squadron, Group and Type Commanders. Billets in the Washington area are available in OPNAV (i.e., Deputy Chief of Naval Operations - Submarine Warfare), in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in the Naval Military Personnel Command, among others. Additionally, selected officers completing an Engineer Officer tour are assigned to fleet commander staffs as members of the Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board.


Your assignment as Executive Officer (XO) is contingent upon selection by a formal Executive Officer Screening Board convened by the Chief of Naval Personnel. You will be considered for selection by three separate boards over a 3 year period. Your first screening will be by the board convened in the summer prior to the fiscal year in which you reach 10 years of commissioned service.

Executive officer tour lengths are 22-26 months. In addition to your specific duties as XO, you will normally complete requirements for command qualification early in this tour, if this qualification was not completed during your department head tour. Qualifying for command and being selected for command are not the same. Selection for command is carried out by the Submarine Command Selection Board. An officer is considered by the board once a year for 3 years, starting in his 12th year of commissioned service.


Officers generally are assigned to a shore duty prior to command. This 2 year tour will be in a wide variety of challenging assignments, primarily on major staffs and in the Washington, DC area.


Officers selected and qualified will be ordered directly to command upon the completion of their post-Executive Officer shore tour. Prior to reporting to their ships, they will attend about 6 months of formal Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) training. Specific submarine PCO training is conducted by the Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (13 weeks), and the type commander (9 weeks). Command tour length will normally be 3 years.


Following command, nuclear submarine officers are assigned ashore in a variety of billets. Some of the most challenging assignments are in the submarine support area. These include submarine squadron deputy commander for training and readiness, as well as positions on submarine Group and Type Commanders' staffs in weapons, operations, plans and training. Assignments are also available outside the submarine support area and include tours in Washington, DC, overseas, and as a student at the Naval War College. The nominal post-command tour length is 2 years.

Graphically the career path looks like this:

More information can be obtained from the PER-42 website at:  http://www.bupers.navy.mil/codes/pers4/pers42

- This page last updated 10/22/2003 -

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