Warrant officer

The Regimental Sergeant Major of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, WO1 Herman Eve, in 1992
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A warrant officer (WO) is an officer in a military organisation 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 13th century 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 included in the "Other Ranks" (OR) category, equivalent to the US "E" (Enlisted) category and rank 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 classified as officers and are in the "W" category (NATO "WO"); they 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 a long service as enlisted personnel, or direct entrants, notably for U.S. Army helicopter pilots.

Origins in the Royal Navy

The warrant officer corps began 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 18th 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:

In the early 19th 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:[4]

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):

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 two warrant officer ranks: warrant officer class one (WO1) and warrant officer class two (WO2); the former is superior in rank to the latter. All warrant officers are addressed as "Sir" or "Ma'am". To gain the attention of a particular warrant officer in a group, they can be addressed as "Warrant Officer Bloggs, sir/ma'am" or by their appointment, e.g. "ASM Bloggs, sir/ma'am". All warrant officers hold an appointment such as company sergeant major (WO2) or regimental sergeant major (WO1). The WO1 appointed to the position of Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army (RSM-A) is the most senior warrant officer in the Australian Regular Army, including the Army Reserve. The appointment of RSM-A was introduced in 1991. The rank insignia 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 Australian Commonwealth coat of arms surrounded by a laurel wreath for the RSM-A.[6][7]

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).[7]

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).[7]


The ranks of adjudant (premier maître in the navy), adjudant-chef (maître-principal in the navy), and major may be considered equivalent to Commonwealth warrant officer ranks.


The Warrant officer 1st class rank insignia of the Indonesian Army 
The Warrant officer 2nd class rank insignia of the Indonesian Army 

In the Indonesian Armed Forces, there are two warrant officer ranks known as pembantu letnan (assistant lieutenant). These are warrant officer 2nd class (pelda) and warrant officer 1st class (peltu).


Junior commissioned officers are the Indian Armed Forces equivalent of warrant officer ranks. Those in the Indian Air Force actually use the ranks of junior warrant officer, warrant officer, and master warrant officer.

Ranks of the Indian Air Force – enlisted ranks
Junior commissioned officer Enlisted
Shoulder Arm
Rank Master
warrant officer
Warrant officer Junior
warrant officer
Sergeant Corporal Leading

In the British Indian Army, warrant officer ranks existed but were restricted to British personnel, mostly in specialist appointments such as conductor and sub-conductor. Unlike in the British Army, although these appointments were warranted, the appointment and rank continued to be the same and the actual rank of warrant officer was never created. Indian equivalents were viceroy's commissioned officers.

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. Israel Defense Forces 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
Sergeant first classMaster sergeantSergeant majorCommand sergeant majorWarrant officerChief warrant officer
More details at Israel Defense Forces ranks & IDF 2012 - Ranks (idf.il, english)

New Zealand

The New Zealand Army is similar to the Australian Army, except that it has two warrant officer ranks. The Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2), which is addressed as "Sergeant Major" and the Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1) which is addressed as "Sir or Ma'am". There are also appointments such as Company and Squadron sergeant major (CSM and SSM) which are usually WO2 positions and Regimental sergeant major (RSM), which are usually WO1 positions. The highest ranking WO1 holds the position of Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) and is addressed as "sir or Ma'am". In certain uniforms, WO2's wear black shoes, the same as the enlisted ranks whilst WO1s wear brown shoes, the same as commissioned officers. The exception to this are WO1s of the Royal New Zealand Armoured Corps (RNZAC) who wear black shoes.

The Royal New Zealand Navy has a single Warrant Officer rank and is addressed as "Sir or Ma'am". The WO is equivalent to the Army WO1.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force also has a single Warrant Officer rank and is addressed as "Sir or Ma'am". The WO is equivalent to the Navy WO and the Army WO1.


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.[8] 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)".[8] They are also usually addressed "encik" ("mister" in Malay language) by commissioned officers. It is not a necessity to be saluted by other ranks.

South Africa

Class 1
Class 2
Master warrant officer rank insignia in the SANDF

In the South African National Defence Force a warrant officer is a non-commissioned officer rank. Before 2008 there were two classes - warrant officer class one and two. A warrant officer class one 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 one. 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.[9]

United Kingdom

Royal Navy

Crown flanked by wreaths
WO2 badge (phasing out)
Coat of arms
WO1 badge
Warrant officer classes of the Royal Navy

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 rank with warrant officers class one 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.[10] Five branches (surface ships, submarines, Royal Marines, Fleet Air Arm, and Maritime Reserves) each have a command warrant officer.[11] The senior RN WO is the Warrant Officer of the Naval Service.[12][13]

From 2004, warrant officers class 2 existed in the RN, but no new appointments have been made since 2014.

British Army

Arm badge of a WO1 conductor RLC (British Army)

In the British Army, there are two warrant ranks, warrant officer class two (WO2) and warrant officer class one (WO1), the latter being the senior of the two. These ranks were previously abbreviated as WOII and WOI (using Roman instead of Arabic numerals). "Warrant officer first class" or "second class" is incorrect. The rank immediately below WO2 is staff sergeant (or colour sergeant).[2] From 1938 to 1940 there was a WOIII platoon sergeant major rank.[14]

Starting March 2015, the new appointment "Sergeant Major of the Army" or Army Sergeant Major for the British Army due to the reforms of the British Army was created, earlier in the year the appointments for Command sergeant majors commenced.[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. The most senior Royal Marine warrant officer is the Corps Regimental Sergeant Major. Unlike the RN proper (since 2014), it retains both WO ranks.

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 first and second 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 "mister or warrant officer -surname-" 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 Service Secretary of the respective branch of service (Secretary of the Army, or Secretary of the Navy for USMC warrant officers), while chief warrant officers (W-2 to W-5) are commissioned by the President of the United States, both warrant officers and chief warrant officers take the same Oath of Office as regular commissioned officers (O-1 to O-10).[22]

Warrant officers command detachments, units, activities, vessels, aircraft, and armored vehicles as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. However, the warrant officer's primary task as a leader is to serve as a technical expert, providing valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.[22]

All U.S. armed 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.

The U.S. Army utilizes warrant officers heavily and separates them into two types: technical and aviation. Army Aviation warrant officers are Army Aviators (aircraft pilots - helicopter and airplane). Technical warrant officers in the army are specialized in a single track technical area such as intelligence, maintenance, military police, or special forces; and provide direct advice and support to commanders. For example, a military police officer and a military intelligence officer both have to be branch qualified in their respective fields; learning how to manage the entire spectrum of their profession. However, within those broad fields you can also have warrant officers such as CID Special Agents (a very specific track within the military police) and Counterintelligence Special Agents (a very specific track within military intelligence). These technical warrant officers allow for a Soldier with subject matter expertise (like non-commissioned officers); but with the authority of a full commissioned officer. Both technical and aviation warrants go through similar training initially at warrant officer candidate school (WOCS); but then go their separate ways. Technical warrant officers in the army must be selected from the non-commissioned officer ranks (typically E-6 through E-9); however, the higher the rank, the easier it is to pass the board and get accepted into the warrant officer program. Aviation warrant officers are able to apply before becoming non-commissioned officers, and some even earlier (these types of aviation warrant officers are often referred to as "high school to flight school" warrants).

The U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard discontinued the grade of W-1 in 1975, appointing and commissioning all new entrants as chief warrant officer two (pay grade W-2, with rank abbreviation of CWO2). Unlike the Army, all Navy chief warrant officers are selected strictly from the chief petty officer pay grades (E-7 through E-9). The Coast Guard allows E-6 personnel to apply for chief warrant officer rank, but only after they have displayed their technical ability by earning a placement in the top 50 percent on the annual eligibility list for advancement to E-7.

The U.S. Maritime Service, which is established at 46 U.S. Code § 51701, falls under the authority of the Maritime Administration of the Department of Transportation and is authorized to appoint warrant officers. In accordance with 46 U.S. Code § 51701, the USMS rank structure must be the same as that of the U.S. Coast Guard while uniforms worn are those of the U.S. Navy with distinctive USMS insignia and devices. The USMS has appointed warrant officers, of various specialty fields, during and after World War II.[23][24]

Warrant officer rank is also occasionally used in law enforcement agencies to grant status and pay to certain senior specialist officers who are not in command, such as senior technicians or helicopter pilots. As in the armed forces, they rank above sergeants, but below lieutenants. For example, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol had several warrant officer helicopter pilot positions from the 1960s until the mid-1980s. The WO insignia was a silver bar with a black square in the center. The WO ranks were abolished when the aviation program expanded and nearly twenty trooper pilot positions were created. The New York State Police rank of technical lieutenant is similar to a warrant officer rank insofar as it is used to grant commissioned officer authority to non-commissioned officers with extensive technical expertise.

Branch W-1 W-2 W-3 W-4 W-5
U.S. Army
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Navy
U.S.Coast Guard Discontinued

See also


  1. Welsh, David R. (2006). Warrant: The Legacy of Leadership as a Warrant Officer. Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publishing Company. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-59652-053-0.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "A Brief History of Warrant Rank in the Royal Navy". Naval-History.Net. Retrieved 2010-04-07.
  3. 1 2 Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-87021-258-3.
  4. 1 2 "Information sheet no 096: Naval Ranks" (PDF). National Museum of the Royal Navy.
  5. Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-87021-258-3.
  6. "Australian Defence Force Badges of Rank and Special Insignia". Australian Government, Department of Defence. Retrieved 19 March 2007.
  7. 1 2 3 "Defence Force Regulations 1952". Australian Government, ComLaw. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
  8. 1 2 MINDEF, History Snippets, 1992 - The SAF Warrant Officer School, 7 January 2007. Accessed 19 March 2007.
  9. "Minister approves new ranks for Warrant Officers" (PDF). South African Soldier. SA Department of Defence. September 2008. p. 17.
  10. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/News-and-Events/Reference-Library/~/media/Files/Navy-PDFs/News-and-Events/Naval%20Publications/BR%202/brd2book/ch23.pdf
  11. http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/News-and-Events/Reference-Library/~/media/Files/Navy-PDFs/News-and-Events/Naval%20Publications/BR%202/brd2book/ch20.pdf
  12. "Warrant Officer in a class of his own". Royal Navy: News and Events. 24 April 2013.
  13. "New Base Warrant Officer at Culdrose". Fleet Air Arm Officers Association News. 2 October 2013.
  14. Banham, Tony (2006). The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru: Britain's Forgotten Wartime Tragedy. Hong Kong University Press. p. 272. ISBN 9789622097711.
  15. Jones, Bruce (1 February 2015). "CGS outlines new British Army senior posts amid culling of generals". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
  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. 1 2 "Warrant Officer History". U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
  23. 46 U.S. Code § 51701 (c) Ranks, Grades, and Ratings.— The ranks, grades, and ratings for personnel of the Service shall be the same as those prescribed for personnel of the Coast Guard.
  24. http://www.usmm.org/usmsinsignia.html
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