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Warrant officer

Navies Armies Air forces
Admiral of
the fleet
Marshal or
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the air force
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Rear admiral Major general Air vice-marshal
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Captain Colonel Group captain
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Lieutenant Captain Flight lieutenant
Sub-lieutenant Lieutenant Flying officer
Ensign Second
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Midshipman Officer cadet Officer cadet
Seamen, soldiers and airmen
Chief petty officer or
Warrant officer
Sergeant major or
Warrant officer
Warrant officer
Petty officer Sergeant Sergeant
Leading seaman Corporal Corporal
Seaman Private Aircraftman

A warrant officer (WO) is an officer in a military organization who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, and a non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer, often by virtue of seniority.

The rank was first used in the (then) English Royal Navy and is today used in most services in many countries, including the Commonwealth nations and the United States.

Outside the United States, warrant officers are in a rank cadre of their own between non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers. The warrant officers in Commonwealth navies rank between chief petty officer and sub-lieutenant, in Commonwealth air forces between flight sergeant and pilot officer, and in Commonwealth armies between staff sergeant and second-lieutenant.

Warrant officers in the United States are technical leaders and specialists. Chief warrant officers are commissioned by the president of the United States and take the same oath as regular commissioned officers. They may be technical experts with long service as enlisted personnel, or direct entrants, notably for U.S. Army helicopter pilots.


  • History: origins in the Royal Navy 1
    • Rank and status in the eighteenth century 1.1
      • Wardroom warrant officers 1.1.1
      • Standing warrant officers 1.1.2
      • Junior warrant officers 1.1.3
      • Warrant officers in context 1.1.4
    • Demise of the Royal Naval warrants 1.2
  • Modern usage 2
    • Australia 2.1
    • Israel Defense Forces 2.2
    • Singapore 2.3
    • South Africa 2.4
    • United Kingdom 2.5
      • Royal Navy 2.5.1
      • British Army 2.5.2
      • Royal Marines 2.5.3
      • Royal Air Force 2.5.4
    • United States 2.6
  • See also 3
  • References 4

History: origins in the Royal Navy

The warrant officer corps began in the 13th century in the nascent English Royal Navy.[1] At that time, noblemen with military experience took command of the new Navy, adopting the military ranks of lieutenant and captain. These officers often had no knowledge of life on board a ship—let alone how to navigate such a vessel—and relied on the expertise of the ship's master and other seamen who tended to the technical aspects of running the ship. As cannon came into use, the officers also required gunnery experts; specialist gunners began to appear in the 16th century and also had warrant officer status.[2] Literacy was one thing that most warrant officers had in common, and this distinguished them from the common seamen: according to the Admiralty regulations, "no person shall be appointed to any station in which he is to have charge of stores, unless he can read and write, and is sufficiently skilled in arithmetic to keep an account of them correctly". Since all warrant officers had responsibility for stores, this was enough to debar the illiterate.[3]

Rank and status in the eighteenth century

In origin, warrant officers were specialist professionals whose expertise and authority demanded formal recognition.[3] In the eighteenth century they fell into two clear categories: on the one hand, those privileged to share with the commissioned officers in the Wardroom and on the Quarterdeck; and on the other, those who ranked with more junior members of the ship's crew.[4] Somewhere between the two, however, were the Standing Officers: notable because (unlike the rest of the ship's company) they remained with the ship even when it was out of commission (e.g. for repair, refitting or replenishment, or whilst laid up); in these circumstances they were under the pay and supervision of the Royal Dockyard.

Wardroom warrant officers

These classes of warrant officer messed in the Wardroom with the Commissioned Officers.

  • the Master: the senior warrant officer, a qualified navigator and experienced seaman who set the sails, maintained the ship's log and advised the Captain on the seaworthiness of the ship and crew;
  • the Surgeon: who treated the sick and injured and advised the Captain on matters of health;
  • the Purser: responsible for supplies, victuals and pay for the crew.

In the early nineteenth century, they were joined in the wardroom by naval chaplains, who also had warrant officer status (though they were only usually present on larger vessels).

Standing warrant officers

The standing officers were:[5]

  • The boatswain: responsible for maintenance of the ship's boats, sails, rigging, anchors & cables;
  • The carpenter: responsible for maintenance of the ship's hull and masts;
  • The gunner: responsible for care and maintenance of the ship's guns and gunpowder.

Junior warrant officers

Other warrant officers included surgeon's mates, boatswain's mates and carpenter's mates, sailmakers, armourers, schoolmasters (involved in the education of boys, midshipmen and others aboard ship) and clerks. Masters-at-arms, who had formerly overseen small-arms provision on board, had by this time taken on responsibility for discipline.

Warrant officers in context

By the end of the century the rank structure could be illustrated as follows (the warrant officers are underlined):

Relative Ranks in the Royal Navy, c. 1810. Warrant officers are underlined in the chart.[6]

Demise of the Royal Naval warrants

In 1843, the wardroom warrant officers were given commissioned status, while in 1853 the lower-grade warrant officers were absorbed into the new rate of chief petty officer, both classes thereby ceasing to be warrant officers. On 25 July 1864 the standing warrant officers were divided into two grades: warrant officers and chief warrant officers (or "commissioned warrant officers", a phrase that was replaced in 1920 with "commissioned officers promoted from warrant rank", although they were still usually referred to as "commissioned warrant officers", even in official documents).

By the time of the First World War their ranks had been expanded with the adoption of modern technology in the Navy to include telegraphists, electricians, shipwrights, artificer engineers, etc. Both warrant officers and commissioned warrant officers messed in the warrant officers' mess rather than the wardroom (although in ships too small to have a warrant officers' mess they did mess in the wardroom). Warrant officers and commissioned warrant officers also carried swords, were saluted by ratings, and ranked between sub-lieutenants and midshipmen.[2]

In 1949, the ranks of warrant officer and commissioned warrant officer were changed to "commissioned officer" and "senior commissioned officer", the latter ranking with but after the rank of lieutenant, and they were admitted to the wardroom, the warrant officers' messes closing down. Collectively these officers were known as "branch officers", being retitled "special duties" officers in 1956. In 1998, the special duties list was merged with the general list of officers in the Royal Navy, all officers now having the same opportunity to reach the highest commissioned ranks.[2]

Modern usage


The Australian Army has three warrant officer ranks: WO, WO1 and WO2. The most senior Army warrant officer is the soldier appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army (RSM-A). The RSM-A is the only holder of the unique rank of warrant officer (WO), introduced in 1991. Substantive RSMs of regiments and battalions hold the rank warrant officer class one (WO1). Although of the same rank as other WO1s, with some exceptions, RSMs are considered senior to other WO1s. The third rank is warrant officer class two (WO2). The insignia of the three ranks are: a crown for a WO2; the (Australian) Commonwealth Coat of Arms (changed from the Royal Coat of Arms in 1976) for a WO1; and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms surrounded by a laurel wreath for the warrant officer.[7][8]

The Royal Australian Navy rank of warrant officer (WO) is the Navy's only rank appointed by warrant and is equivalent to the Army's WO1 (the equivalent of the Army's WO2 rank is a chief petty officer). The most senior non-commissioned member of the Navy is the warrant officer appointed Warrant Officer of the Navy (WO-N).[8]

The Royal Australian Air Force rank of warrant officer (WOFF) is the Air Force's only rank appointed by warrant and is equivalent to both the Army's WO1 and the Navy's WO (the equivalent of the Army's WO2 is a flight sergeant). The most senior non-commissioned member is the warrant officer appointed Warrant Officer of the Air Force (WOFF-AF).[8]

Israel Defense Forces

The רב-נגד משנה rav nagad mishne ("warrant officer") and the רב-נגד rav nagad ("chief warrant officer") are both non-commissioned officers ranks in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Because the IDF is an integrated force, they have a unique rank structure. IDF ranks are the same in all services (army, navy, air force, etc.). The ranks are derived from those of the paramilitary Haganah developed in the British Mandate of Palestine period to protect the Yishuv. This origin is reflected in the slightly-compacted IDF rank structure.

Israel Defense Forces ranks : נגדים nagadim - non-commissioned officers (NCO)
Rav samal
רב-סמל ראשון
Rav samal rishon
רב-סמל מתקדם
Rav samal mitkadem
רב-סמל בכיר
Rav samal bakhír
רב-נגד משנה
Rav nagad mishne
Rav nagad
NATO  OR-5 OR-6 OR-7 OR-8 OR-9
Abbreviation רס"ל
Sergeant First Class Master Sergeant Sergeant Major Command Sergeant Major Warrant Officer Chief Warrant Officer
More details at Israel Defense Forces ranks & IDF 2012 - Ranks (, english)


In the Singapore Armed Forces, warrant officers begin as third warrant officers (3WO), previously starting at 2WO. This rank is given to former specialists who have attained the rank of master sergeant and have either gone through, or are about to go through the Warfighter Course at the Specialist and Warrant Officer Advanced School (SWAS) in the Specialist and Warrant Officer Institute (SWI). In order to be promoted to a second warrant officer (2WO) and above, they must have been selected for and graduated from the joint warrant officer course at the SAF Warrant Officer School.[9] Warrant officers rank between specialists and commissioned officers. They ordinarily serve as battalion or brigade regimental sergeant majors. Many of them serve as instructors and subject-matter experts in various training establishments. Warrant officers are also seen on the various staffs headed by the respective specialist officers. There are six grades of warrant officer (3WO, 2WO, 1WO, MWO, SWO & CWO).

Warrant officers used to have their own mess. For smaller camps, this mess are combined with the officers' mess as a combined mess for better camaraderie. Warrant officers have similar responsibilities to commissioned officers. Warrant officers are usually addressed as "sir" by the Other Ranks or as "Warrant (Surname)".[9] They are also usually addressed "encik" ("mister" in Malay language) by commissioned officers. It is not a necessity to be saluted by Other Ranks. They are usually be saluted out of respect by the enlistees.

South Africa

In the South African National Defence Force a warrant officer is a non-commissioned officer rank. Before 2008 there were 2 classes - warrant officer class 1 and 2. A warrant officer class 1 could be appointed to positions such as regimental sergeant major, formation sergeant major or even sergeant major of the army while still in the rank of warrant officer class 1. In 2008 the warrant officer ranks were expanded so that the substantive ranks that came with senior appointments now became ranks that an individual kept after moving from that post.[10]

United Kingdom

Royal Navy

Crown flanked by wreaths
Coat of arms

In 1973, warrant officers reappeared in the Royal Navy, but these appointments followed the army model, with the new warrant officers being ratings rather than officers. They were initially known as fleet chief petty officers (FCPOs), but were renamed warrant officers in the 1980s. They ranked with warrant officers class 1 in the British Army and Royal Marines and with warrant officers in the Royal Air Force.[2]

There are Executive Warrant Officers for commands and ships.[11] Four branches, Surface Ships, Submarines, Royal Marines and Fleet Air Arm each have a Command Warrant Officer.[12] The senior RN WO is the Warrant Officer of the Naval Service.[13][14]

British Army

Arm badge of a WO1 Conductor RLC (British Army)

In the British Army, there are two warrant ranks, warrant officer class 2 (WO2) and warrant officer class 1 (WO1), the latter being the senior of the two. It used to be more common to refer to these ranks as WOII and WOI (using Roman instead of Arabic numerals). "Warrant officer 1st class" or "2nd class" is incorrect. The rank immediately below WO2 is staff sergeant (or colour sergeant).[2] From 1938 to 1940 there was a WO III platoon sergeant major rank.[15]

Royal Marines

Before 1879, the Royal Marines had no warrant officers:[16] by the end of 1881, the Royal Marines had given warrant rank to their sergeant-majors and some other senior non-commissioned officers, in a similar fashion to the army.[17] When the army introduced the ranks of warrant officer class I and class II in 1915, the Royal Marines did the same shortly after.[18] From February 1920, Royal Marines warrant officers class I were given the same status as Royal Navy warrant officers and the rank of warrant officer class II was abolished in the Royal Marines, with no further promotions to this rank.[19]

The Marines had introduced warrant officers equivalent in status to the Royal Navy's from 1910 with the Royal Marines gunner (originally titled gunnery sergeant-major), equivalent to the navy's warrant rank of gunner.[20][21] Development of these ranks closely paralleled that of their naval counterparts: as in the Royal Navy, by the Second World War there were warrant officers and commissioned warrant officers (e.g. staff sergeant majors), commissioned staff sergeant majors, Royal Marines gunners, commissioned Royal Marines gunners, etc. As officers they were saluted by junior ranks in the Royal Marines and the army. These all became (commissioned) branch officer ranks in 1949, and special duties officer ranks in 1956. These ranks would return in 1972, this time similar to their Army counterparts, and not as the RN did before.

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force first used the ranks of warrant officer class I and II as inherited from the Royal Flying Corps. It first used the rank badges of the Royal Coat of Arms for WOI and the crown for WOII. Until the 1930s, these ranks were often known as sergeant major 1st and 2nd class. In 1939, the RAF abolished the rank of WOII and retained just the WOI rank, referred to as just warrant officer (WO), which it remains to this day. The RAF has no equivalent to WO2 (NATO OR-8), an RAF WO being equivalent to WO1 (NATO OR-9) and wearing the same badge of rank, the Royal Coat of Arms. The correct way to address a warrant officer is "sir" or "ma'am" by airmen and "Mr or Warrant Officer -Name-" by officers. Most RAF warrant officers do not hold appointments as in the Army or Royal Marines; the exception to this is the station warrant officer, who is considered a "first amongst equals" on an RAF Station. Warrant officer is the highest non-commissioned rank and ranks above flight sergeant.

In 1946, the RAF renamed its aircrew warrant officers to master aircrew, a designation which still survives. In 1950, it renamed warrant officers in technical trades to master technicians, a designation which survived only until 1964.

The most senior RAF warrant officer by appointment is the Chief of the Air Staff's Warrant Officer. He holds the same rank as all other warrant officers.

United States

In the United States military, a warrant officer (grade W-1 to W-5) is ranked as an officer above the senior-most enlisted ranks, as well as officer cadets and officer candidates, but below the officer grade of O-1 (NATO: OF-1). Warrant officers are highly skilled, single-track specialty officers, and while the ranks are authorized by Congress, each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces selects, manages, and utilizes warrant officers in slightly different ways. For appointment to warrant officer (W-1), a warrant is approved by the secretary of the respective service, while chief warrant officers (W-2 to W-5) are commissioned by the President of the United States and take the same oath as regular commissioned officers (O-1 to O-10).[22]

Warrant officers can and do command

  1. ^ Welsh, David R. . Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publishing Company, 2006. Retrieved 30 August 2011. ISBN 978-1-59652-053-0. p. 6.Warrant: The Legacy of Leadership as a Warrant Officer
  2. ^ a b c d e "A Brief History of Warrant Rank in the Royal Navy". Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  3. ^ a b Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 100.  
  4. ^ Royal Naval Museum info sheet on RN rankings
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 136.  
  7. ^ Australian Government, Department of Defence, Australian Defence Force Badges of Rank and Special Insignia, accessed 19 March 2007.
  8. ^ a b c Australian Government, ComLaw, Defence Force Regulations 1952, effective 16 March 2012, accessed 4 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b MINDEF, History Snippets, 1992 - The SAF Warrant Officer School, 7 January 2007. Accessed 19 March 2007.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ p. 272 Banham, Tony The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy Hong Kong University Press, 2006
  16. ^ Hansard, 29 July 1879
  17. ^ London Gazette, 2 December 1881
  18. ^ London Gazette, 12 November 1915
  19. ^ "The London Gazette, 3 February 1920". Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  20. ^ London Gazette, 15 November 1910
  21. ^ London Gazette, 15 June 1917
  22. ^ a b "Warrant Officer History". U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 


See also

NATO Rank WO-5 WO-4 WO-3 WO-2 WO-1
United States Army
Chief warrant officer 5
Chief warrant officer 4
Chief warrant officer 3
Chief warrant officer 2
Warrant officer 1

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard also discontinued the grade of W-1 in 1975, appointing/commissioning all new entrants as chief warrant officer 2 (pay grade W-2, with rank abbreviation of CWO2). Unlike the Army, all Navy and Coast Guard chief warrant officers are selected strictly from the chief petty officer pay grades (E-7 through E-9). The Coast Guard can and does select warrant officers from pay grade E-6.

All U.S. services employ warrant officer grades except the U.S. Air Force. Although still technically authorized, the Air Force discontinued appointing new warrant officers in 1959, retiring its last chief warrant officer from the Air Force Reserve in 1992.


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