Make the Navigator a Department Head on Surface Ships

Lieutenant Matthew Faulkenberry and Lieutenant Brian Van Metre, U.S. Navy

At present, the PTO department head job is not standardized among ships. The most common arrangement assigns the PTO responsibility for the cryptologic technician and sonar technician divisions and ownership of tactical training. Some ships have allowed the PTO to act as a sort of chief staff officer, planning exercises and operations and writing the ship’s schedule. Clearly, though the surface forces desired another department head, there was no real plan for what to do with it.

Making the new department head an experienced navigator instead would elevate the importance of navigation and seamanship while consolidating and bringing consistency to training of bridge watchstanders. As so many current and former commanding officers have noted in recent months, safe navigation is the true no-fail mission.

Yet, surface ship navigation training at present falls under the seamanship and navigation training team (SNTT), commonly led by the operations officer, who owns search-and-rescue and seamanship mobility areas. Man-overboard activities, small-boat operations, and anchoring thus become the focus of the SNTT. Bridge watchstanding training is under the purview of the senior watch officer, a collateral duty that changes according to seniority with the constant rotation of department heads in wardrooms. In addition, senior watch officers often schedule wardroom training instead of bridge and combat information center (CIC) watchstander training. The result is inconsistent training and underdevelopment of enlisted watchstanders on the bridge and in CIC. Assigning a department head navigator will ensure a steady emphasis is placed on navigation and seamanship training—by making him or her the SNTT leader.

The new Navigation/Administration department, with the navigator as department head, would see the training officer assume the role of administration division officer and the assistant navigator—a second-tour division officer—become navigation division officer. Deck division, led by the first lieutenant, is a logical addition to the department. The department head navigator would assume the PTO’s responsibility for the long-range schedule and planning, effectively making the department head navigator the future operations lead—and a logical follow-on tour for first-tour operations officers. The execution of current operations should fall under the operations officer, overseeing OI division and retaining the OPS limited duty officer, CIC officer or air defense officer, depending on platform.

Surface ship department heads must stand tactical action officer (TAO) duty to continue professional development and to ensure the appropriate level of oversight over ship operations. A department head navigator would also stand TAO watches. During special evolutions, particularly restricted waters transits, the department head navigator would be required to share duties with the assistant navigator on the bridge in the same way that the engineer officer and main propulsion assistant take turns as plant control officer (PCO) during special evolutions. Engineer officers get sufficient experience as TAO while balancing PCO duties, and a department head navigator could, as well.

Two deadly collisions have focused the surface community on safe navigation and seamanship. The Navy needs to make this focus permanent—before the memory of 2017’s events fades from memory. Elevating the position of navigator to a full department head would help cement this attention.

Lieutenant Faulkenberry commissioned through Seaman to Admiral 21 at Old Dominion University. He served as operations officer on the USS Chafee (DDG-90) and is the planning and tactics officer on the USS Hue City (CG-66). Lieutenant Van Metre commissioned through NROTC at the University of Notre Dame and served as the auxiliaries officer on the USS Mobile Bay (CG-53) and as the Navigator on the Hue City . He currently serves as the surface warfare instructor at the University of Notre Dame's NROTC program.

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