Where do they serve?
Officers assigned to acquisition billets focused on shipbuilding, weapon systems procurement or on the modernization of ships and systems already in the Fleet can expect to work in the Washington DC area. Those assigned to acquisition billets in program offices that develop, field and modernize the command/control/communications/computers/intelligence (C4I) systems in the Fleet are primarily in the San Diego area. This potential for geographic stability across multiple tours, while building experience and an understanding of how to manage acquisition programs, makes the SWO AC career path particularly appealing. Following acceptance into the SWO AC community, officers compete for selection to serve in Critical Acquisition Positions (CAPs), specifically as a Major Program Manager or a Warfare Center Commanding Officer both of which are equivalent to “pin-wearing” major command afloat/ashore billets.
What is program management?
Program management refers to all activities associated with developing, producing, fielding and sustaining new capabilities for the Fleet. Once the requirements for a new ship or system are set, the program team, under the leadership of the program manager, develops and leads execution of the plan (aka the Acquisition Strategy) that will produce and field the required capability. This acquisition plan must include a detailed budget and the contracting strategy to buy the capability, any new or emerging technologies needed to meet the desired performance requirements of the new system, and the schedule for development, testing, production and fielding of the new system. The program manager is vested with all the authority, accountability and responsibility to accomplish the key program objectives, i.e. field the new capability that provides the required performance, within the program’s budget and schedule. If this sounds like a challenging task, that’s because it is! Over the course of any given week in the life of any Navy acquisition program, the program manager and program office team must respond to a range of issues that can directly impact the ultimate success of the program.
What do SWOs bring to Navy Acquisition/Program Management?
Working closely with both Navy Engineering Duty Officers and government civilians with technical, contracting, systems testing, financial and program management experience, SWO ACs bring their recent shipboard/at-sea experience to the program management team. This background enables them to provide a realistic view of what it will take to introduce, operate, maintain and repair new systems in the Fleet. The typical SWO has experienced both good and not so good products provided by the acquisition system while serving in operations, combat systems and engineering billets over the course of multiple sea tours. As a result, a SWO AC has an instinctive desire to “get it right” for future Sailors, which translates into unique credibility when working with the other members of the program management team.
The experience SWO ACs gain during their Commander command tour also makes them valuable members and eventually leaders of the program office management team. Understanding how to set priorities and focus limited resources on the most pressing requirements plus how to pull together and lead a team made up of members with differing strengths and abilities, something any successful SWO in command must do on a daily basis, are also key requirements, to effectively manage an acquisition program office. One unique aspect of leading and managing the work within a program office team is that key members of the team often have a separate reporting chain of command that runs up to the source of their warranted authority. For example the contracting officer and business/financial manager, who each make vitally important contributions to the success of the acquisition program must also comply with the rules, regulations and laws mandated by their respective career field. As a result, a SWO AC must work to ensure the most effective collaboration and communication among all members of the program office team. This team works together to deliver the planned capabilities and systems that fill the stated requirements on time and within budget. A SWO AC selected to serve as the commander of one of the Navy Warfare Centers can expect to face similar challenges while leading a workforce that provides groundbreaking technical knowledge and engineering expertise to the Fleet.
Ultimately, all SWO ACs, whether assigned to a program office or warfare center, make a direct and lasting impact that shapes the future of the Surface Navy. Leveraging their recent at-sea experience, coupled with an understanding of how to operate within the DOD/Navy acquisition system, SWO ACs play an important role. Are you interested in meeting the challenges and opportunities afforded by membership in this community?