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Although Royal Navy submarines have many similarities in operational performance and achievement with U.S. Navy submarines, the composition and structure of their ships company, and in particular the Wardroom, are quite different having historically evolved along separate lines. As an SSN Commanding Officer, I will, in the main, restrain my remarks to the SSN Wardroom, but many parallels can be drawn to the SSBN world as well.

The  Officer  Structure  of  the  Royal Navy

There are some fundamental differences in the officer structure of the Royal Navy to that of the U.S. Navy. The Royal Navy has no “Line Officer”. Instead, a man before he ever enters Britannias Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, must have been selected for one of four streams: Seaman, Marine Engineer, Weapons Engineer or Supply/Secretariat. After a communal period of basic naval training consisting of 3 months at Dartmouth, 3 months at sea in a training ship, and one year at sea in the Fleet, the training for each type of officer varies:

Seaman Officer Returns to Dartmouth or a University for further academic training, then completes eight months of professional Naval courses.

Marine Engineer Completes a three year degree-course at the Royal Naval Engineering College at Manadon, followed by a one-year Application course.

Weapons Engineer – Same as for Marine Engineer, but with weapon/electrical bias.

View full article for table data

Supply Officer – The same for the Seaman Officer but his professional courses train him in supply and secretariat. duties.

The  Composition  of  the SSN Wardroom

The SSN Wardroom is also divided into the same four departments and the chain of command is as shown in illustration.

The  Operations  Department

This is the fighting/tactical department of the submarine and consists entirely of operators with no equipment maintenance responsibilities except for the traditional cleaning, painting and ship husbandry duties. The officers all have their watches in the control room and become tactical specialists. In order to fight the submarine effectively, they require a working knowledge of the whole submarine and therefore, although they are not qualified nuclear operators, they still require a firm grasp of the propulsion systems — and this aspect is not forgotten in their training.

Seaman  Officer’s  Training

The training of the Operations Branch Officers continues throughout their career in submarines. A typical career structure with the completion of basic professional courses might look like this:

Officers Training Class (4 months)  –   A basic introduction to a submarine, submarine  systems    and  an introduction  to submarine  tactics.

Nuclear Greenwich Course (7  weeks)   –  An introduction to reactor physics, reactor/propulsion systems   and  nuclear safety.

– Joins  the  First Submarine –

Part  Ill Qualifications (4  months)  – On the job training. Consolidates all that has been taught. He will  watchkeep  in  all positions in  the submarine  both  forward and  aft. On  successful completion  he  is awarded  his “Dolphins.”

– Completes first tour at sea – (Approx. One Year) –

Submarine Warfare Course (10  weeks) –  Further tactical, weapons and sensor training enables officer  to be competent Control Room Watchkeeper in  a tactical  environment.

– Second  Tour  at    Sea (Approx.    18 months)-

Submarine  Specialist  Course (10  weeks)  –  Either Navigation  or Sonar(ASW) Sub-marine

Advanced Warfare Course –   Further tactical training. Enables officer     to   lead the  Control  Room Watch  in  advanced tactical situations.

–   Third Tour at  Sea (Approx.   2 Years) –

Attack Coordinator  Course  –  To  teach  the      function of   the   First     Lieu- tenant    (4  weeks)   in the  Command  Team.

-Fourth Tour at Sea as First Lieutenant of SSK (the Executive Officer) –

Commanding  Officer’s Qualifying  Course (5  months) – All  aspects of submarine  tactics, attacks, and safety . Preparation for command of an SSK . A very testing course  conducted ashore and at the sea

Commanding  Officer  of an SSK (Approx.  2 Years) –  Promotion  to  Commander rank by selection.

Nuclear Pre-Joining Training – (14 weeks) –  A full tactical refresher on all aspects of submarine operations and tactics including an introduction to surface ship tactics and strategic plans. This course also includes a refresher on Nuclear Safety and operations.

Commanding  Officer of a Nuclear Submarine


  1. Any tour  at  sea  may be in  either  an SS8N1  SSN or SSK. The aim is to give most officers across-the-board training in all aspects of submarine operations during their careers.
  2. It can be seen that the Seaman Officer receives extensive tactical 1 sensor and weapon training throughout his career, giving him great in-depth knowledge of all aspects of submarine operations by the time he aspires to command.
  3. The Seaman Officer, who can aspire to command, is not a nuclear operator. Thus, the CO of a nuclear submarine will have received no more than 9 weeks of nuclear courses — where the emphasis is on nuclear safety.
  4. Marine Engineers and Weapons Engineers will never assume command of a seagoing ship of any type in the Royal Navy — including submarines. Command at sea posts will always be filled by Seaman Officers.

The  Weapon  Engineers    (WE)  Department

This department is responsible for the maintenance and availability of all sonars, tactical data handling, fire control, weapons and navigation systems. The Royal Navy submarine service does not have an operator maintenance policy and the bulk of the ratings in the WE department will be artificers. The two officers in this department are fully qualified weapon engineers who on top of their detailed specialist knowledge obtain tactical experience by keeping watch in the Control Room. This mix of tactical and engineering knowledge is later in their careers used in the procurement and development of future sensors and weapons.

The Marine  Engineers  (ME)  Department

This department under the MEO is responsible for all aspects of maintenance, operations and safety of primary and secondary propulsion systems and electrical power distribution throughout the submarine. All ME Officers have completed a post-graduate course in Nuclear Engineering and have had further training in applying that knowledge to submarines. They are all qualified Nuclear Plant Operators and regularly have to requalify to satisfy the stringent requirements of the Nuclear Safety Directorate. Throughout their careers they keep watches in the Maneuvering Room although they do spend periods in the Control Room to enhance their ship and tactical knowledge to help them become more proficient in their understanding of the Command problems. The MEU is responsible to the Commanding Officer for all aspects of Nuclear Safety and advice on plant operation. There must be a regular dialogue between these two to ensure that the tactical and engineer’s requirements do not clash. The MEO will be a very experienced Engineer and Nuclear Operator, having completed two or three tours at sea as well as shore appointments on Ministry of Defense/Flag Officers’ Staffs or in Dockyard repair/refit duties.


The Royal Navy, as there is no line officer concept, splits its officer corps into four main specializations. This has the advantages of being able to train the officers to a great depth within their own departments and allows for the Seaman Officers to have great tactical experience in all aspects of submarine warfare. This split in specializations can lead to a split between forward (operations) and aft (propulsion). To avoid this, requires the Commanding Officer and the three main Heads of Departments, the First Lieutenant, MEO and WEO. to work together to ensure that all persons onboard understand what the submarine is trying to achieve and to plan their respective department’s work and training to achieve it .

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