Low Promotion Rates for Navy Pilots Yield Changes to Process

The Navy has made some changes to its officer promotion board process following complaints and criticisms that the most recent board disproportionately failed to promote aviators from lieutenant to lieutenant commander — compared with promotions of submariners and surface warfare officers.

The service is working to ensure they identify the right number of vacancies for lieutenant commander positions and solidify the number of billets available, said Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the Chief of Naval Personnel.

“The concerns made us want to look closely at the process and see what things could be done to better the process. It is important to the Navy that we have the right selectivity,” Servello said. “You want to meet the warfighting requirements for each individual community. We believe in the process but just like with anything, over time there are adjustments you need to make.”

Concerns emerged following the 2015 Navy Lieutenant Commander Line Promotion Selection Board which resulted in a 92 percent promotion rate for surface warfare officers and a 95 percent rate for submarines – while pilots were only promoted at a rate of 56 percent and 49 percent for Naval Flight Officers, according to numbers provided by the Navy.

Overall, the Navy has roughly 8,000 surface warfare officers in the service, 3,700 submariners and approximately 10,000 naval aviators including naval flight officers and pilots, according to the Navy.  Among aviators, 321 lieutenants were selected for promotion out of a total of 571 available applicants, Servello added.

The result of last May’s promotion board, announced in July of last year, troubled a number of aviators who felt their performance and qualifications were not properly recognized.

“There were aviators that went before the board and did not make the quality cut. There was concern among some aviators and other people that when you looked at their records they had met the quality level — and there was a large amount of anecdotal evidence that said some of our top folks did not make it this time,” Servello explained.

As a result, Servello said the Navy was working to make sure the promotion selection boards were made up of captain-level members and had the right composition.

The Navy scrubbed the number of billets available and worked to make sure that the Navy’s so-called community briefs clearly explain the requirements and requisite milestones needed for various career paths, Servello added.

The changes will go into effect for the upcoming May selection board which will identify officers for promotion next year, he added.

While the Navy has taken steps to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of its promotion board practices, there are certain circumstances which contribute to the reasons why aviators may have been promoted at a lower percentage, Servello said.

One of the factors is that aviators have longer training periods than submariners and surface warfare officers, a phenomenon which means many of them have more years to go when it comes to paying back time to the Navy for their education and training, Servello said. As a result, large numbers of submariners and surface warfare officers with shorter training cycles have already had the opportunity to self-select out of the service.

This dynamic changes the applicant pool and means that a higher percentage of those seeking promotion have already decided upon a longer-term Navy career, something which may not be the case with aviators being considered for promotion, Servello added.

Also, the longer training track for aviators means that surface warfare officers and submariners have more fitness reports or assessment checkpoints along the way where they are evaluated by superiors.  This leads to a situation wherein aviators are being judged on a smaller body of work when compared with their surface and submarine counterparts.

However, the Navy plans to promote a higher percentage of lieutenants in the upcoming selection board. The average promotion of lieutenants over the last two years has been right around 70 percent, Servello said.

“Next year will be 80 percent to get some of those that we missed. The ultimate goal of each of our boards it to select the best and fully qualified regardless of whether they are a submariner, aviator or surface warfare officer. We feel like these adjustments we strengthened the standards for selecting the best and most fully qualified officers,” Servello said.

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