Specialist Principal Warfare Officers prepare for graduation

Published on SBLT Bianca Wise and LCDR Ken Bailes (author), ABIS Jesse Rhynard (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Watson, Sydney

Topic(s): Training, HMAS Watson

Principal Warfare Officers under training are supported by HMAS Toowoomba Combat Systems Operator Sailors in the Anzac Class FFH Operations Room, in the Ritchie Building, HMAS Watson.  (photo: ABIS Jesse Rhynard)
Principal Warfare Officers under training are supported by HMAS Toowoomba Combat Systems Operator Sailors in the Anzac Class FFH Operations Room, in the Ritchie Building, HMAS Watson.

Principal Warfare Officer’s (PWO) Course number 50 will be the first in HMAS Watson's 28 year history to graduate students with one of three new specialisations on offer, including Communications and Information Warfare, Amphibious Warfare or Mine Warfare.

The School of Maritime Warfare (SMW) based at Watson in Sydney is the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) premier warfare training establishment. It has provided training to the Officers and Sailors of the RAN since 1945, putting the fight in ‘fight and win at sea’.

Lieutenant Commander Dave Murphy, the Officer in Charge of SMW, said the SMW provides both theory and practical training, to personnel ranging from Commanding Officers of major fleet units, through to junior combat systems sailors on their first professional course after recruit training.

“The PWO course is one of the largest courses delivered by SMW. It lasts 12 months and pushes its participants to the limit, testing both theoretical knowledge and practical skills during three phases,” he said.

The recently updated PWO course now offers a total of six specialisations, ranging from Surface Warfare (SW) and Mine Warfare (MW) to Navigation (N), Communications and Information Warfare (CIW), Amphibious (Amphib) and Air Warfare (A).

There are 27 students on the newly upgraded PWO course, who are currently undertaking the fast paced, high pressure simulation phase. Each course is supported by a ship's company to ensure the training is as close to reality as possible, with the current trainees being supported by the crew of HMA Ships Darwin, Melbourne and Toowoomba.

During simulation training, students face realistic scenarios based on operations around the world, where they are required to outsmart submarines, ships and aircraft across various war fighting serials.

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Paul Hollingworth in the Control Room, Ritchie Building, HMAS Watson.

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Paul Hollingworth in the Control Room, Ritchie Building, HMAS Watson.

The course boasts a mix of classroom based theory training in combination with three main periods of practical training. The practical training takes place in the simulators at Watson’s Systems Training School, which houses replicas of both the Adelaide and Anzac class frigate Operations Rooms.

PWO Practical (PWOPRAC) training provides the main assessment of a student’s abilities at the end of each phase of PWO course. PWO PRAC 1 provides a student with the foundations of maritime war fighting and tests their ability to defend a ship against missiles and torpedoes, lasting four weeks at the end of the Unit Phase.

The next stage of PWO training is the Group Phase where the various specialisations split and conduct individual training, culminating with PWO PRAC 2 which tests a student’s ability to operate with and protect other ships against multiple enemies in challenging conditions.

The final Force Phase of the PWO course tests the student’s capacity to operate as a part of a larger force by planning and executing an operation against a simulated foe in a complex warfare environment. The students end the course with a week at sea to conduct a final assessment of the skills and knowledge they have learned over the previous year.

LCDR Ken Bailes, an SMW Operations Officer on exchange from the UK, said the training undertaken by the PWO students was necessarily challenging "as they will all end up leading a team of sailors and some will eventually go on to command ships."

“To provide the level of training required to qualify a PWO takes a massive effort, from all at Watson, the RAN’s ships and aviation squadrons, and supporting elements from the other services,” LCDR Murphy said.

“It is a testament to the commitment and professionalism of the Australian Defence Force.”

The RAN PWO course first ran at Watson in 1985 where nine students graduated from PWO course number one. The current Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs completed the demanding course in 1992 as a Lieutenant. He graduated as the top student in PWO Course 14.

More images available at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20131054.