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Naval Officer career progression and Command


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CMS' recently released SITREP on Naval Officer Career progression is below.

3371-5075-1 (DGNP/RDIMS #182808)

19 October 2009

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1. It has been a number of years since the last letter on naval officer career progression from Commander Maritime Command was promulgated.  Notwithstanding the evolution of CF Transformation, the growing importance of integrating forces to achieve effect, and the increasing focus on littoral maneuver, the fundamental manner in which we train and develop naval officers remains largely unchanged.  This is because our foundational processes of achieving technical competence and broad professional knowledge remain relevant to, and in fact support, this evolution. As the Navy embarks on an ambitious force development agenda which will include a short term reduction in the number of hulls (as the Halifax Class transitions through the HCM/FELEX midlife upgrade) it is timely that I signal my intent in the important area of naval officer career progression.  In doing so I remain conscious of demographic changes, societal shifts (including the emergence of the millennial generation), and a growing demand for skilled workers; all factors which need to be carefully considered to ensure that our navy remains relevant, responsive and effective while representing a career choice for Canadians.  The formation of the naval leadership cadre is key to achieving these goals, and can best be accomplished through the adoption of a career progression model that balances potential and experience, and is focused on meeting the needs of the institution.

2. In promulgating this career progression model it is appropriate for me to reinforce that success is a function of much more than the historical benchmark of promotional advancement.  Success also includes the personal fulfillment attained by influencing progress in a number of areas, the satisfaction gained by contributing to the long term health of the institution, and the gratification achieved by balancing professional and personal goals.  Accordingly, this letter should be read in the context of a broader definition of success.

3. The demanding operational challenge of service at sea represents a unique opportunity to practice leadership and war-fighting skills that are at the heart of the naval profession.  Accordingly, achieving effect at sea remains the raison d’être of the professional military mariner, and will continue to form the basis of the officer development model.  For this reason, the longstanding practice of selection of our most senior leaders from the sea-going command stream will not change.  Indeed, I expect every MARS officer to vigorously pursue command at sea.  Similarly, I view the developmental foundation of Naval Technical Officers and Naval Logistics Officers to be built through service in the Fleet, and subsequent shore command opportunities are key in the development of these respective communities’ most senior leaders.  Having reinforced the fundamental requirement for service at sea, I will address the career progression of MARS officers, Naval Technical Officers (NTO) and Naval Logistics Officers to meet the demands of the Navy and the Canadian Forces.


4. It has become apparent, over the course of some years, that a stratification of the MARS classification has occurred.  Without designing this construct we have effectively evolved to the point where we have a wet and a dry list.  In acknowledging that this development is one by which we will likely continue to operate, an examination of the various development streams is key to understanding the MARS career progression model.

5. Command Stream.  The first group of MARS officers is represented by those employed in the command stream.  The completion of early navigation training, progression through ‘D level’ and ORO postings; the attainment of command qualification; and appointment as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer will remain the primary focus in the first half of their career.  It is most important to have LCdrs complete the Joint Command and Staff Program (JCSP) prior to their tour as Executive Officer, and ideally, an officer will have served at least one tour in NDHQ prior to assuming command at sea.  From a career progression perspective, submarine command shall continue to be viewed as an equivalent to a surface warship XO tour.

6. In almost all cases, promotion to Captain(N) is dependent on successful surface warship command, and is recognition of the potential to reach Flag rank.  Post-command employment will necessarily focus on operational and strategic level exposure and development.  In order to ensure that future senior leaders have a full appreciation of issues affecting the Navy and the CF, mobility is essential.  Every attempt will be made to ensure that these officers receive a broad geographic exposure to the Navy, with emphasis on senior command billets and demanding NDHQ staff positions.  The requirement for senior leaders to have an awareness of, exposure to, and an ability to successfully operate in the strategic environment, something which can only be gained through work in NDHQ, cannot be overstated.  Pursuit of a Post Graduate degree, Professional Development Period 4 (DP4) qualification (National War College) and early second language proficiency are key professional development requirements for progression to the highest ranks. 

7. Peer competition is the cornerstone of our merit process, and only the very best from this command stream will one day command our Fleets, Formations and the Navy. Moreover, it must be understood that not all will be provided the opportunity to exercise their command qualification.  The Naval Succession Planning Board (NSPB) will remain the objective vehicle by which officers are selected for sea-going command appointments, and by extension, potential future institutional leadership positions.  However, those officers who are not selected for command are essential to realizing the vision of a credible and relevant navy for today and a strong navy of tomorrow, and they will be selectively employed to this end.  In special circumstances, it is foreseeable that select numbers of these officers would attain the rank of Capt(N).

8. Institutional Leaders.  The second group of MARS officers encompasses those post-ORO officers who do not achieve command certification, but remain desirous of serving in a wide range of challenging positions.  Demanding NDHQ staff positions, operational level HQs and international staffs form the majority of positions for employment consideration.  Although Flag rank is not a possibility for this group of officers, I anticipate that the breadth of experience they would accumulate would mean that a certain number could achieve the rank of Commander and, on very rare occasions and in specific circumstances, attain the rank of Captain(N).  Institutional level professional development (ie. JCSP, SLT) would be atypical and any further investment in training and education would be tailored to meet the demands of future specific employment (ie.  HR, resource management, Ammunition Technical Officer, oceanography, project management). 

9. Staff Support.  It is important to recognize that the minimum professional basis for leading the application of force in the maritime environment is the ORO course.  The third stream of MARS officers encompasses those who do not hold this qualification.  Officers in this area would be career managed in a manner that would develop staff expertise in a number of fields that are meaningful to the Navy and the CF, and it is envisioned that a select few could progress to LCdr to undertake niche employment opportunities.  As a general rule, NDHQ offers the majority of employment opportunities for this group of officers.  Professional development beyond that required for niche expertise or specific taskings would rarely be considered. 

10. Clearance Divers.  The Clearance Diver represents a distinctive element in the MARS occupation model.  This key skill set has historically been limiting from a career progression perspective, as those who pursue this path have effectively self-selected out of the command stream.  However, the recent decision to endorse the CLD qualification as a ‘D level’ will facilitate the reintegration Clearance Divers into the command stream via the ORO course.  For those Clearance Divers who remain in this field, the NSPB will continue to be used to select commanding officers for the Fleet Diving Units and career progression would normally be limited to LCdr.  The potential exists for promotion to the rank of Cdr to fulfill the CF position of Director of Diving Safety. 

11. Summary.  This tiered approach to the career progression of MARS officers is essential if we are to groom our very best for Flag rank, while at the same time providing valuable and meaningful careers for those who wish to contribute to the future success and growth of the Navy.  In keeping with recent history, it is anticipated that up to 20 percent of officers promoted annually to the rank of Commander may be from the second progression stream.  However, progression beyond the rank of Cdr is generally limited to those officers in the command stream, and appointment to positions of strategic or operational command will require senior command experience at the tactical level.  I am confident that this model caters to the institutional needs of the Navy and has the transparency to permit officers to play a meaningful role in their own career management.


12. The NTO is in a unique military occupation devoted to naval operations and associated support. The raison d’être of the NTO is to serve as a naval officer, all the while gaining valuable technical expertise and materiel management skills that can be leveraged for operational success. 

13. Sea experience for the NTO is vitally important to his/her foundational development.  While academic and theoretical knowledge are cornerstones of the NTO’s cognitive and technical abilities, these elements are finely honed under the operational conditions found only in sea going units.  As a starting point, all NTOs will successfully complete Phase VI training to achieve occupational competency that is the entry-level qualification for all technical officers.  To build on this initial foundation, it is expected that all officers will strive for Head of Department (HOD) qualification and subsequent selection as HOD in a sea-going unit. The experience gained in the HOD tour is invaluable in terms of developing the technical leadership in operations while building significant management skills for downstream postings.

14. Post Graduate (PG) training opportunities are numerous and represent highly beneficial academic qualifications that serve to broaden the individual’s knowledge base while acquiring advanced technical expertise in a chosen field.  Aspiring officers are encouraged to pursue a PG degree, normally at the rank of Lieutenant (N) / Lieutenant Commander, in order to provide the greatest benefit to the Navy while broadening their own skill-sets. Technical, project management, and broad management (MBA, MEng Mgt) post-graduate studies represent important professional development for those officers seeking leadership positions within the NTO community.

15. Employment opportunities and patterns vary greatly for NTOs, and there are a number of positions available to acquire the breadth of experience required for NAV ENG employment.  Tours of duty in NDHQ in general, and ADM (Mat)/DGMEPM and DGMPD(L&S) in particular, are considered essential to NTO development, particularly during the post-HOD period.  In this milieu, the technical and materiel support requirements necessitate strong leadership skills, expertise in resource management, project management, strategic planning acumen and specialist engineering knowledge.  NTOs are entrusted with major capital acquisition and fleet sustainment activities, such as project management, Life Cycle Management, and Class Manager positions.  In these challenging positions, NTOs must effectively blend their leadership, operational experience and technical expertise to enhance current and future operational materiel readiness objectives.

16. The spectrum of opportunities outside of the mainstream technical field is far-reaching.  These ‘purple’ positions denote jobs in the wider CF that broaden an officer’s appreciation of the overall CF and yield a greater understanding of the corporate organization.  Positions in areas such as recruiting, training and leadership academies, personnel management, UN missions are valuable to the NTO and the Navy.  In addition, an early appreciation of civilian HR management issues is a key enabler to NTO development.

17. In addition to DP4 qualification and a CBC second language profile, the prerequisites for Flag rank include demonstrated success in operational units, strategic staff positions and command appointments.  Coastal command opportunities (such as School Cmdts and GTO at the Commander rank, and CO FMF/BComd at the Capt(N) rank), are available to the NTO as determined by the NSPB.  These appointments are considered significant opportunities to demonstrate future potential for positions of greater responsibility and career advancement.  Equally significant roles to demonstrate future potential are the NTO operational support positions in the Formations (such as FMF Departmental Head/FTA/N37 at the Cdr rank) and the Headquarters Matrix and Project Management leadership positions (such as DGMEPM Section Heads or MCP DCM at the Cdr rank or DGMEPM Director or PM MCP at the Capt(N) rank.)


18. The aim of Naval Logistics career progression today remains the development of an operationally focused officer capable of supporting deployed maritime operations.  The competencies in Supply, Finance, Contracting, Human Resources and Food Services required by the Navy have resulted in a Naval Logistics officer who provides a unique, holistic set of operational support skills that are in high demand throughout the CF and are currently not found elsewhere in the Logistics branch.  The expanding requirement for joint and combined experience has increased the value of that training and ensures that Naval Logistics officers will have ample opportunity throughout their careers to serve in a variety of operational settings at sea, in deployed shore-based units and on joint staffs.

19. Naval Logisticians must display the knowledge, flexibility and imagination to sustain and support naval operations.  Early career focus is directed towards functioning as a Ship’s Logistics Officer where primacy of operations is paramount.  The associated training combines the knowledge and technical logistical skills required to effectively manage resources with the necessary judgement and leadership skills in both a naval, and joint/combined setting.  Career progression will include naval environmental training, formal Logistics training, ashore and afloat OJT phases in preparation for the Naval Logistics Qualification (AILK), and subsequent selection for Head of Department (HOD) employment at sea as a Lieutenant(N).  Selected Lieutenant-Commanders will have the opportunity to return to sea as a second-tour HOD shortly after promotion. 

20. The review of all Logistics Officer training by the Logistics Branch Integrator as well as the impact of the HCM/FELEX programme will affect the training and employment of sea-going Naval Logistics officers. Some officers may not proceed to sea as a HOD; challenging opportunities will continue to exist for these officers at the base, formation, and maritime staff levels. As well, CF level appointments may be within the operational commands, NDHQ, CFRG, foreign exchange, or instructor duties at the Canadian Forces School of Administration and Logistics.  These “purple” appointments are important to ensure appropriate naval input and contribution to the CF corporate and joint activities, and serve to broaden the experience and perspective of Naval Logistics officers.

21. In HR and Food Services specialties, sea-time as a HOD will be replaced by supporting the Fleet from ashore.  In these cases, every effort will be made to enhance their understanding of the naval environment as well as to manage their career progression within the Navy.  However,  in view of the unique skill sets of these officers and requirements of the wider CF community, these officers more often than not will be needed in other areas of the CF or on joint operations.  There the knowledge of his or her specialty and association with the Navy will be critical to the success of the mission.

22. Diversity of employment and operational experience garnered in a Forward Logistic Site, National Support Element or National Command Element enhance a Naval Logistics officer’s ability to compete for senior appointments.  In fact, due to the experiences and skills garnered by participating in deployed land-based operations, it is expected that most Navy Logistics Officers will be offered such an opportunity thereby expanding their already considerable skill sets.

23. In a similar vein to MARS and NTOs, command experience is essential.  For Naval Logisticians, these opportunities include not only Base or Station Command within MARCOM, but also commanding CFSU(O), CMSG, and CFSTG.  In addition, graduate education, professional accreditation (e.g. CMA, CGA), DP4 qualification and second language competency remain pertinent considerations for advancement to Flag rank.

24. A formal Succession Planning process for Naval Logistics officers from Lt(N) to Cdr has been in place for several years. Positions at each rank are assigned to 3 distinct phases: pre-command, command and post-command. The aim is to employ officers in every phase to provide them with the proper experience and exposure for further advancement.  The Naval Logistics Boards’ deliberations also are used in the larger Logistics Branch Succession Planning process, where Naval Logistics officers will be considered for key and senior appointments and command positions in competition with their Army and Air Force peers.


25. One of the keys to the future success of the Navy is a clearly articulated officer career progression model that supports the immediate and long-term objectives of the Navy while offering realistic and appropriate employment and challenges for the individual.  Although this letter does not signify a significant change in the development of NTO and Naval Logistics officers, it does represent a shift in the career progression model for MARS officers in that it formalizes what has become de facto general practice for the ranks of Commander and below.  Although I continue to expect that MARS officers will vigorously pursue command, I acknowledge that this goal will not be realized in all cases.  In these instances, it is essential that those officers be offered meaningful employment consistent with the needs of the Navy.

26. I anticipate that personnel demands and challenges will increase as we pursue fleet modernization and replacement over the next twenty years.  Success in this regard will demand that we have a plan in place that ensures the optimization of the training, development and employment of our personnel.  Additional details on the implementation of this plan will be provided through DGMPR and the respective Branch Advisers.  Your comments and suggestions through those same avenues are welcome.

“Originally Signed By”

P. Dean McFadden

Interesting document.  I wasn't aware of the Dolphin ghetto for officers - but apparently commanding a sub isn't seen as being as demanding as commanding a surface warship.  Perhaps a sailor can shed light on this for me?

From a career progression perspective, submarine command shall continue to be viewed as an equivalent to a surface warship XO tour.
dapaterson said:
Interesting document.  I wasn't aware of the Dolphin ghetto for officers - but apparently commanding a sub isn't seen as being as demanding as commanding a surface warship.  Perhaps a sailor can shed light on this for me?

What that means is if you have a successful run at CO of a Sub you do not have to do the surface ship XO tour. Once you are promoted Commander you can be selected as a surface ship Commanding officer.

Sub CO - LCdr
Sur CO - Cdr
FSTO said:
What that means is if you have a successful run at CO of a Sub you do not have to do the surface ship XO tour. Once you are promoted Commander you can be selected as a surface ship Commanding officer.

Sub CO - LCdr
Sur CO - Cdr

My question was poorly phrased - what I meant to ask is why a sub is seen as a lesser command than the command of a surface ship?  Given the 3d battlespace and independence of a sub, I'd almost posit that commanding a sub is the more challenging task.
dapaterson said:
My question was poorly phrased - what I meant to ask is why a sub is seen as a lesser command than the command of a surface ship?  Given the 3d battlespace and independence of a sub, I'd almost posit that commanding a sub is the more challenging task.
Challenging in some specific ways, but not necessarily in ways that relate to preparing one to be an operational commander in the way that post-surface command does. For instance, subs tend to integrate less fully with task groups. The command is more independent in some ways (and thus challenging from that perspective), but as a sub CO one would get less of a sense of the goings-on at the next level up.

Anyway, that's the way it's been explained to me.
I am waaay out of my lane now, but from what I know, it is in some way "more" demanding.  See this link. Note the title.  I "know" I saw a lengthy video of this story on TV somewhere recently - cannot find it online, though.

I have been told that the amount of "work" that the CO must do is far and away more than what a surface ship CO has to consider on a moment to moment basis.  The same Capt(N) Submariner said that the sub CO really "fights the boat" himself in a lot of ways, much more so than a surface CO.  I can't really elaborate any more than that, because I don't know.
I know of one still-serving officer who went from skipper of an O-boat to skipper of HMCS Fraser, so that all makes sense.
I'd say it's not so much that it's viewed as "less demanding", more so than just recognizing that due to the size of the submariner community, it must come earlier in the MARS officer's career. Thus, while a surface MARS officer would be expected to go through JCSP prior to becoming an XO, the submariner XO would not be required to do so. He would be before assuming command of a boat. And a surface MARS officer would be expected to have a tour in NDHQ before assuming command of a ship, a submariner may not be expected to prior to assuming command of his boat.

The fact that a submariner is expected to take on such responsibility earlier on in his career is a way of recognizing how difficult this path may be. As well, in para 6, the expectation that in order to become a Capt(N), you very much should have had command of a surface ship makes it even more difficult. Someone would then be expected to go straight from a sub, to commanding a surface ship, when it is entirely possible that they haven't sailed on a surface ship since they received their Bridge Watch Keeping ticket. That would, frankly, be quite the learning curve.
Another point is that submarine CO's, as long as they have a certain amount of time in command of an operational boat, are waived the Command Board process.
And I concur about the learning curve in going back to skimmers - I at least have a bit of frigate time, but some of the other guys in my Wardroom have only been onboard for cocktail parties and wet-downs.  But of course the most overlooked problem in all of this is not necesscarily the learning curve - but rather having to go back to skimmers! (Sorry, couldn't resist - Dolphin Code 19)
SeaDog said:
I at least have a bit of frigate time, but some of the other guys in my Wardroom have only been onboard for cocktail parties and wet-downs. But of course the most overlooked problem in all of this is not necesscarily the learning curve - but rather having to go back to skimmers! (Sorry, couldn't resist - Dolphin Code 19)

Hey, no complaining until you're able to hold your own cocktail parties!
Not a single word on Reserve Officer Career progression. Typical. This is one of the more important reasons I left the navy. These twits seem to think that the fleet consists of DD, F, SSK, AORs and nothing else.

So bloody typical.
In fairness, given the limited opportunities for reservists past the rank of LCdr in the fleet (i.e. you either get a second drive or you don't, and can hustle for the spot as CCD or OIC MWV Sea Trg), guidance like that is going to have to come from COMNAVRES rather than CMS. To my mind, it makes sense to incorporate that with a discussion about career progression for NAVRES INT and LOG types at the same time, since the reserve establishment itself essentially ATR.

We're a small organization with one Cmdre and three or four Capt(N)s. Do any of us really have a "career progression" in the sense of CMS' letter - aspiration to operational command?
In fairness, I think a realistic set of expectations is:

• Three stripes on retirement indicates a good, solid career – the officer, regular or reserve, was “better than most” most of the time;

• Four stripes represents an excellent career – the officer was the best of very, very many, over and over again; and

• Flag rank is the rarest of achievements representing excellent performance plus perseverance, a wee bit of luck and some political skill, too.

I believe CMS and COMNAVRES should have and publish a master plan for NAVRES officers – MARS, LOG and INT – that tells them how to manage their futures so as to achieve the results they want. It must start by recognizing that the NAVRES is different from the regular force – not all NAVRES officers want “careers” as many of us understand that; many are, as Churchill said, “twice the citizen” as they balance military training and organizing and directing their NRD with productive civilian careers. In that they are, like so many militia officers and NCOs, the people who provide the “base” from which other reservists go forth to crew warships, fly aircraft and augment ships and units on training and operations.

They are, all, entitled to something akin to what CMS has provided for the regulars: a realistic and practical guide to “being the best you can be.”
I agree that such a document for naval reservists is absolutely necessary...however I'm not sure if career progression has really been clearly defined for NAVRES by the top with such issues as the 'MARS Staff officer' types that are essential to the running of the reserve system but have limited career progression opportunities in comparison to their LOG counterparts filling similar types of roles in the reserve system.
My point is that that document purports to outline career progression for all naval officers while completely ignoring the reserve community. Before this was published CMS should have demanded that NR put before him their view of what career progression should be including ideas as to what a 'part-time' career should be vs what a 'full-time' career progression should be.

It is this very lack of concern by CMS and the inability/unwillingness of the permashads at NAVRESHQ to clearly enunciate these issues that makes this letter a sham.

The simple reality is that the majority of senior officers in the NR now aren't really reservists. Its all very nice to quote Churchill but the sad reality is that NavRESHQ only pays lip service to the idea of 'part-time' reservists.

More and more of us 'part-timers' are catching on and more and more are leaving and finding other things to do with our time (and yes by the way, some of us did have the temerity to think what we were doing was a career). The result: Smaller and less capable NRDs unable to generate the forces necessary to man the MCDVS. At the same time we have never had more permashads while manning perhaps 2 or 3 MCDVS on either coast.

Whether or not you believe in the part-time reservist, whether or not you think NRD command is something necessary for progression in the NR, whether or not you think the current permashad empire is a top-heavy, bloated, out of control bureaucracy incapable of fullfilling its basic mandate, these issues should have been addressed by the CMS letter. They weren't. Ultimately because CMS either is unaware of the crisis in the NR are simply doesn't care.

Either way we are in trouble.

I was glad to read that you have left the navy.  I would hate to think that you were currently serving and infecting others with your "chip on shoulder" attitude.

This letter was written (it is actually the third or fourth one in the last 15 years or so) to provide clarity to career officers on their progression.  The reserve force is by definition not a career so there is no requirement for this type of letter from CMS.  Since you are apparently unaware of how Naval Reserve careers are governed, please refer to MARCORD 9-1.  The career chart for officers is in Annex B, page 5.

The commitment you provided to the country has been appreciated.  As a long serving member of the naval reserve, you certainly must be aware of the tradition for ex-members to fade away and leave the current generation to run things in their way, without the benefit of your cynical advice.  Much like the courtesy that was afforded you during your service.

  Hey everyone.  Just bumping an old thread here.  I have a question about being a naval logistics officer. 
From reading the doc. I gather that if you make your specialty Admin, or Food Svcs. that there is a much larger chance of staying off
the ships and more so ashore and also spread across the country. Am I correct?
  So if A LogO ( sea) wanted to stay in Halifax or Esquaimalt, and spend more time at sea, would the supply route be the way to go?
  Anyone here a Naval LogO?
COD :cdn:
Hi, have there been new communications or documents of this type regarding Naval Officer Career Progression? I found this interesting to read. Is there anything similar regarding Non-Commissioned Members?