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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, or non-commissioned officer (NCO) who is designated an officer by virtue of seniority.

The rank was first used in the (then) English Royal Navy and is today used in many other countries, including the Commonwealth nations, the United States and Ireland. Outside the United States they are effectively senior non-commissioned officers with long military experience, although technically in a cadre of their own between NCOs and commissioned officers. However, warrant offices in the United States are technical leaders and specialists, and 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 or direct entrants, notably for U.S. Army helicopter pilots.

History: Origins in the Royal NavyEdit

The warrant officer corps began in the 13th century in the nascent English Royal Navy. 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.[1]

Four categories of WOsEdit

Originally, warrant officers were specialist professionals whose expertise and authority demanded formal recognition. They eventually developed into four categories:[2]

  • Wardroom warrant officers
  • Gunroom warrant officers
  • Standing warrant officers
  • Lower-grade warrant officers

Literacy was one thing that all 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.[2]


Relative Ranks in the Royal Navy, c1810. Warrant Officers are underlined in the chart.[3]

Demise of the Royal Naval warrantsEdit

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. By the time of the First World War, the standing warrant officers had been divided into two grades: Warrant Officers and Chief Warrant Officers (or "Commissioned Warrant Officers", a phrase that was replaced in 1920 with "Commissioned Officers from Warrant Rank", although they were still usually referred to as "Commissioned Warrant Officers", even in official documents). Their ranks had by then expanded with the adoption of modern technology in the Navy to include Telegraphists, Electricians, Shipwrights, Artificer Engineers, etc. Both WOs and CWOs messed in the Warrant Officers' mess rather than the wardroom (although in ships too small to have a WOs' mess they did mess in the wardroom). WOs and CWOs carried swords, were saluted by ratings, and ranked between Sub-Lieutenants and Midshipmen.[1]

In 1949, the ranks of WO and CWO 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 WOs 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.[1]

Modern UsageEdit


The Australian Army has three Warrant Officer ranks. The most senior Warrant Officer rank is that of Warrant Officer (WO), introduced in 1991. This rank is held by the Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army (RSM-A). It is the most senior non-commissioned rank in the Australian Army and is held by only one person at a time. The insignia are a crown for a WO2, the Australian coat of arms (changed from the royal coat of arms in 1976) for a WO1, and the Australian coat of arms surrounded by a wreath for the RSM-A.[4] The Royal Australian Navy has two Warrant Officer ranks, Warrant Officer of the Navy and Warrant Officer.


In the Singapore Armed Forces, Warrant Officers are former Specialists who have attained the rank of Master Sergeant and have been selected for and graduated from the Joint Warrant Officer Course at SAF Warrant Officer School.[5] Warrant officers rank between Specialists and commissioned officers. They ordinarily serve as Battalion, Brigade, etc. Regimental Sergeant Majors. A great deal 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 manpower, intelligence, etc. officers. There are five grades of warrant officer.

Warrant Officers usually have their own mess. For smaller units, this mess may be combined with the Officers' Mess as the Officers'/Warrant Officers' Mess. Warrant Officers wear their insignia on their epaulettes like officers, instead of on the sleeve like specialists and other soldiers. This signifies that Warrant Officers often have similar responsibilities to commissioned officers. Warrant Officers are addressed as "Sir" by those junior to them or by "Warrant (Surname)".[5] They are also commonly addressed "Encik" ("Mister") by commissioned officers. They are not, however, saluted by enlisted ranks.

United KingdomEdit

Royal NavyEdit

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 always ranked with Warrant Officers Class I in the British Army and Royal Marines and with Warrant Officers in the Royal Air Force.[1]

British ArmyEdit

Bermuda Regiment Warrant Officers

Two Bermuda Regiment Warrant Officers.

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).[1]

Royal MarinesEdit

Before 1879, the Royal Marines had no warrant officers:[6] by the end of 1881, the Royal Marines had given warrant rank to their sergeants-major and some other senior NCOs, in a similar fashion to the Army.[7] When the Army introduced the ranks of Warrant Officer Class I and Class II in 1915, the Royal Marines did the same shortly after.[8] From February 1920, Royal Marines Warrant Officer Class Is 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.[9]

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.[10][11] Development of these ranks closedly paralleled that of their naval counterparts: as in the RN, 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.

United StatesEdit

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 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 Uniformed Services selects, manages, and utilizes warrant officers in slightly different ways. For appointment to Warrant Officer One (W-1), a warrant is approved by the secretary of the respective service. 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).[12]

Warrant officers can and do 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.[12]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "A Brief History of Warrant Rank in the Royal Navy". Retrieved 2010-04-07. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 100. ISBN 0870212583. 
  3. Lavery, Brian (1989). Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. p. 136. ISBN 0870212583. 
  4. Australian Government, Department of Defence, Australian Defence Force Badges of Rank and Special Insignia, accessed 19 March 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 MINDEF, History Snippets, 1992 - The SAF Warrant Officer School, 7 January 2007. Accessed 19 March 2007.
  6. Hansard, 29 July 1879
  7. London Gazette, 2 December 1881
  8. London Gazette, 12 November 1915
  9. "THE LONDON GAZETTE, 3 FEBRUARY, 1920". Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  10. London Gazette, 15 November 1910
  11. London Gazette, 15 June 1917
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Warrant Officer History". U.S. Army Warrant Officer Career Center. Retrieved 2007-03-18. 

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