Warrant Officer

A warrant officer (WO) or a chief warrant officer (CWO) is a member of a military organization, with a rank subordinate to other commissioned officers and senior to noncommissioned officers.

The warrant officer corps began in the 13th century in the nascent British Royal Navy. At that time, nobles assumed command of the new Navy, adopting the Army 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 or operate the guns—and relied on the expertise and cooperation of a senior sailor who tended to the technical aspects of running the ship and operating the cannons.

These sailors became indispensable to less-experienced officers and were rewarded with a royal warrant. This warrant was a special designation, designed to set them apart from other sailors, yet not violate the strict class system that was prevalent during the time.


United Kingdom

In the British armed forces, a warrant officer is effectively a senior non-commissioned officer, although he or she holds the Queen's (or King's) warrant. Warrant officers are not saluted, but are usually addressed by their juniors as Sir or Ma'am.

British Army

In the British Army, there are two warrant ranks, Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) and Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1), which is 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). The rank immediately below WO2 is staff sergeant.

Every warrant officer has an appointment, and is usually referred to by his appointment rather than by his rank.

Warrant officers were generally introduced throughout the British Army under Army Order 70 of 1915, although Regimental Sergeant Majors and a few other appointments (beginning in 1879, when Conductors of Stores and Supplies were warranted), had been warranted before that time. These earlier warranted appointments, and some others, became WOIs. The appointments that were designated WOIIs had previously been senior sergeants.

WO1s wear a royal coat of arms on the lower sleeve, which may be surrounded by a wreath depending on appointment. Appointments held by WO1s include:

WO2s wear a crown on the lower sleeve, surrounded by a wreath for Quartermaster Sergeants (for all WOIIs from 1938 to 1947). Appointments held by WO2s include:

From 1938, there was also a rank of Warrant Officer Class III. The only appointments held by this rank were Platoon Sergeant Major, Troop Sergeant Major and Section Sergeant Major. The WOIII wore a crown on his lower sleeve (which is why all WOIIs switched to a crown in a wreath during this period). The rank was placed in suspension in 1940 and no new appointments were made, but it was never officially abolished.

WOs are officially designated using their rank and appointment. For instance, WO2 (CSM) Smith or WO1 (BM) Jones. However, they would usually be referred to as "CSM Smith" and "Bandmaster Jones". WO2s holding Sergeant Major or Corporal Major appointments are often referred to as the "Sergeant Major" or the "Corporal Major", but WO1s are only ever referred to using their full appointment or its abbreviation (the "RSM" or the "Garrison Sergeant Major", for instance).

How warrant officers are addressed depends, as does much else in the British Army, on the traditions of their regiments or corps. However, there are some general rules of thumb:

  • WO1s are usually addressed as "Mr [surname]" by officers and by their peers, and as "sir" or "Mr [surname], sir" by their subordinates (for female WO1s, "Mrs or Miss [surname]", "ma'am", and "Mrs or Miss [surname], ma'am", respectively);
  • an RSM's Commanding Officer, and he alone, has the privilege of addressing him as "RSM"; all others use the normal form of address for WO1s;
  • WO2s are commonly addressed as "Sergeant Major", "Corporal Major" or "Q" (for Quartermaster Sergeants) as appropriate (or as "sir" or "ma'am").

The three most senior warrant officer appointments in the British Army are generally considered to be, in descending order of seniority:

Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force inherited the ranks of Warrant Officer Class I and II from the Royal Flying Corps, part of the Army, in 1918. It also inherited the rank badges of the Royal Arms and a crown respectively. 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 WOI as simple Warrant Officer, which it remains to this day. The RAF has no equivalent to WO2 (NATO OR-8), WO being equivalent to WO1 (NATO OR-9) and wearing the Royal Arms. Warrant officers are addressed and referred to as "Mr", "Mrs" or "Miss" ("Mr Smith" etc), or as "sir" or "ma'am" by their juniors. They do not have appointments as in the Army or Royal Marines.

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

Royal Marines

The Royal Marines has the same warrant ranks as the Army, Warrant Officer Class 1 and Warrant Officer Class 2. The insignia are the same, but all RM WO2s wear the crown-in-wreath variation. As in the Army, all warrant officers have appointments by which they are known, referred to and addressed.

WO2 appointments are:

WO1 appointments are:

The rank below WO2 is Colour Sergeant, the RM equivalent of Staff Sergeant.

At one time, RM warrant officers were similar to Royal Navy warrant officers, in that they were essentially officers and not NCOs.

Royal Navy

The history of warrant rates in the Royal Navy is complicated, but can be viewed in two parts:

  • warrant officers who were definitely officers rather than ratings, similar to those in U.S. forces, up to the 1950s;
  • warrant officers who were senior NCOs, like those in the British Army, from the 1970s on.

Originally, warrant officers were as described at the top of this article: professional seamen whose expertise and authority demanded formal recognition. These included the sailing master, the gunner, the boatswain and the carpenter.

Their positions in the hierarchy depended on the precise nature of their jobs. Most outranked midshipmen (trainee officers): the master, the purser, the surgeon and the chaplain had the privilege of dining in the wardroom with the commissioned officers (and were known as "Warrant Officers of Wardroom Rank").

From the 19th century onwards, senior warrant officers were increasingly granted commissions, and in 1949 the RN stopped creating warrant officers altogether.

In 1973, the RN created the rate of Fleet Chief Petty Officer (FCPO) as the equivalent of the Army's WO1; this was renamed Warrant Officer in the 1980s.

In 2004, the RN renamed the top rate Warrant Officer Class 1 and created the new rate of Warrant Officer Class 2 immediately below it, to replace the appointment of Charge Chief Petty Officer. The latter was a senior Chief Petty Officer, but not a substantive rank in its own right. Only those who held the specific appointment of Charge Chief Artificer (a CCPO in a skilled technical trade) gained partial recognition as NATO OR-8 equivalent, as with other WO2s.

Royal Navy warrant rates are thus now the same as those in the Army and Royal Marines, and wear the same rank insignia: like RM WO2s (but unlike Army WO2s), all RN WO2s wear the crown-in-wreath variation.

United States

In the United States military, a warrant officer was originally, and strictly, a highly skilled, single-track specialty officer. But as many chief warrant officers assume positions as officer in charge or department head, along with the high number of bachelor's and master degree's held within the community, their contribution and expertise as a community is ever-increasing.

There are no "warrant officers" per se in the U.S. Navy, but rather "chief warrant officer" is the correct title. In the U.S. Navy, a sailor must be in one of the top three enlisted ranks to be eligible to become a chief warrant officer.

In the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines, a person can progress to the warrant officer rank at a grade lower than E-7, and thus have a longer career and greater opportunity to serve and grow.

Upon the initial appointment to W-1 a warrant is given by the secretary of the service, and upon promotion to chief warrant officer (CWO-2 and above,) they are commissioned by the president of the United States, take the same oath and receive the same commission and charges as commissioned officers, thus deriving their authority from the same source.

Chief warrant officers can and do command detachments, units, activities, and vessels as well as lead, coach, train, and counsel subordinates. As leaders and technical experts, they provide valuable skills, guidance, and expertise to commanders and organizations in their particular field.

Even when commissioned, they remain specialists, in contrast to commissioned officers who are generalists, though many chief warrant officers fill lieutenant and lieutenant commander billets throughout the US Navy.

In the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines, CWO's may fill position normally held by more senior officers as well. The US Army has many pilots within the CWO community, which differs in philosophy from the other uniformed services. Often in a battalion sized unit, the assistant personnel officer (S-1) and the motor pool officer are warrant officers.

Each branch of the military "runs" the "Chief Warrant Officer" program in slightly different ways. Little is known or published concerning the Chief Warrant Officer, and consequently they are often misunderstood by the unindoctrinated.

A Chief Warrant Officer's benefits and privileges are roughly comparable to those of a junior commissioned officer, and should be at or above those of senior enlisted. A W-1 is paid the same as an O-1 (second lieutenant or ensign), a CW-2 the same as a 0-2 (first lieutenant), and so forth.

In the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard one must have been a senior enlisted (E7 through E-9) to gain the commission.

Air Force

Missing image
Former USAF Warrant Officer insignia

The United States Air Force no longer employs warrant officers.

The USAF inherited warrant officer ranks from the U.S. Army at its inception in 1947, but their place in the Air Force structure was never made clear. When Congress authorized the creation of two new senior enlisted ranks in the late 1950s, Air Force officials privately concluded that these two new "supergrades" could fill all Air Force needs then performed at the warrant officer level, although this was not publicly acknowledged until years later. The Air Force stopped appointing warrant officers in 1959, the same year the first promotions were made to the new top enlisted grade, Chief Master Sergeant. Most of the existing Air Force warrant officers entered the commissioned officer ranks during the 1960s, but tiny numbers continued to exist for the next 21 years.

The last active duty Air Force warrant officer, CWO James H. Long, retired in 1980 and the last Air Force Reserve warrant officer, CWO Bob Barrow, retired in 1992. Since that point, the U.S. Air Force rank of Warrant Officer has been considered obsolete.


The U.S. Army warrant officer (AWO) is the highly specialized expert and trainer who, by gaining progressive levels of expertise and leadership, operates, maintains, administers, and manages the Army's equipment, support activities, or technical systems for an entire career. The Army program began with the warranted Headquarters Clerk in 1896.

Marine Corps

The U.S. Marine Corps has warranted officers since 1916 as technical specialists who perform duties that require extensive knowledge, training and experience with particular systems or equipment. Their duties and responsibilities are of a nature beyond those required of senior noncommissioned officers. Marine Corps warrant officers provide experience and stability in the officer ranks in critical specialty areas. The primary purpose for warrant officers is to create and maintain a selected body of personnel with special knowledge of a particular military specialty.

Within the U.S. Marine Corps, the term "gunner" is used in place of "warrant officer" or "chief warrant officer" when addressing or referring to the warrant officer. This term of address is considered informal or "friendly" and its use is highly dependent on the protocol required by the particular situation and the warrant officer's expectations regarding military conduct and courtesy. Normally, it is considered disrespectful for a non-NCO (E-1 to E-3) to address a warrant officer as "gunner". By custom, NCO's and commissioned officers use the term only if situation is informal and is accepted by the warrant officer and his superiors.

While the term "gunner" is informally used for a Marine Corps Warrant Officer, it is technically incorrect. Only a Chief Warrant Officer, CWO2-CWO5, serving in the MOS 0306 "Infantry Weapons Officer" is designated as a "Marine Gunner". A Marine Gunner replaces the Chief Warrant Officer insignia on the right collar with a bursting bomb insignia.


In the U.S. Navy, warrant officers are technical specialists whose skills and knowledge were an essential part of the proper operation of the ship. Based on the British model, the U.S. Navy has had warrant officers among its ranks, in some form or another, since December 23, 1775, when John Berriman received a warrant to act as purser aboard the brig USS Andrea Doria. That warrant was considered a patent of trust and honor but was not considered a commission to command.


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Republic of Singapore

In the Singapore Armed Forces, Warrant Officers are former non-commissioned officers (known as Specialists in Singapore) who have served for many years. Warrant Officers rank between specialists and commissioned officers, and can hold both specialist and officer positions. Thus one can see Warrant Officers serving as Regimental Sergeant Majors in certain units and Officers Commanding in other units.

There are four grades of warrant officer:

  • 2nd Warrant Officer (2WO): insignia is a point up chevron, an arc below, and a Singapore coat of arms in the middle
  • 1st Warrant Officer (1WO): insignia is two point up chevrons, an arc below, and a Singapore coat of arms in the middle
  • Master Warrant Officer (MWO): insignia is three point up chevrons, an arc below, and a Singapore coat of arms in the middle
  • Senior Warrant Officer (SWO): insignia is four point up chevrons, an arc below, and a Singapore coat of arms in the middle

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 have similar status and responsibilities to commissioned officers.

See also

Abbreviation Paygrade and Rank Army Navy / Coast Guard Marine Corps
WO1 Warrant Officer 1 U.S. Army Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia Missing image

USMC Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
CW2 Chief Warrant Officer 2 U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia U.S. Navy & U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rank Insignia USMC Chief Warrant Officer 1 Rank Insignia
CW3 Chief Warrant Officer 3 U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia U.S. Navy & U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia USMC Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rank Insignia
CW4Chief Warrant Officer 4 Missing image
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia

Missing image
U.S. Navy & U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia

Missing image
USMC Chief Warrant Officer 4 Rank Insignia

CW5 Chief Warrant Officer 5 Missing image
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rank Insignia

USMC Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rank Insignia
Missing image
Flag of the United States of America

U.S. military enlisted ranks

  E-1 E-2 E-3 E-4 E-5 E-6 E-7 E-8 E-9
Air Force: AB Amn A1C SRA SSgt TSgt MSgt SMSgt CMSgt -


Army: PV1 PV2 PFC SPC -






Marine Corps: Pvt PFC LCpl Cpl Sgt SSgt GySgt MSgt -

1st Sgt

MGySgt -

SgtMaj - SMOMC



External links

Official sites


  1. DoD Almanac. The United States Military Officer Rank Insignia (http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/officers.html). United States Department of Defense.

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