As with the Army and Marine Corps, the Navy has Chief Warrant Officers. Navy Chief Warrant Officers (CWOs) are technical specialists who perform knowledge and skills of a specific occupational field at a level beyond what is normally expected a Master Chief Petty Officer (E-9).
The confusion comes in the commissioned officer corps (yes, I know "warrants" are technically commissioned, but to avoid terminology confustion, I'll refer to warrants as CWOs and the "O-paygrade" Officers as "commissioned).
The Navy divides their commissioned officer force into several categories. For example, a JAG lawyer is a "staff officer." Because of his/her specialized legal training, he/she will remain a lawyer during his/her career. You won't find a senior JAG officer commanding an aircraft carrier, for example.
When most people think of commissioned officers in the Navy, they're thinking of "Unrestricted Line Officers." For the most part, these are the officers who are commissioned through ROTC, the Naval Academy, or Officer Candidate School (OCS). These officers perform various and changing duties (jobs) throughout their career and are the ones who "grow up" to become commanders of ships and admirals, commanding entire battle groups.
The Navy has a third group of commissioned officers, unique among the services -- the LDO, or "Limited Duty Officer." LDOs are former senior enlisted personnel (or CWOs), who were considered very highly skilled in their Navy job (rating), and selected to become a commissioned officer. As the name implies, "Limited Duty Officers," unlike "Unrestricted Line Officers," are commissioned officers with a limited career path. For example, a Supply Officer LDO is going to spend his/her career as a Supply Officer (unless he/she applies for and is accepted to change their career path, but this is rather rare, and would depend on their previous education and experience).
LDOs differ from CWOs primarily in degree of responsibility. LDOs "out-rank" CWOs, and are generally paid more (See Military Pay Charts).
The Limited Duty Officer Selection Program
LDOs are technically oriented officers who perform duties specific occupational fields and require strong managerial skills.
The Limited Duty Officer Program provides commissioning opportunities to qualified senior enlisted personnel and Chief Warrant Officers (CWOs). Chief Petty Officers (E-7 through E-9), and E-6 personnel who are selection board eligible for E-7, and all CWOs may qualify for this program. In addition to the LDO program, the Navy has a Chief Warrant Officer Program to select senior enlisted personnel to become CWOs.
The LDO and CWO Programs are open to both active duty and Selected Reserve (SELRES) personnel. Qualified personnel may apply for both LDO and CWO simultaneously. A baccalaureate degree is not required, however, it is encouraged. Leadership ability, military qualifications, and technical expertise remain the key factors leading to selection.
Enlisted personnel must be serving as a Petty Officer First Class (E-6) or Chief Officer (E-7 through E-9). An E-6 must have served in that capacity for at least 1 year as of 1 October of the year application is made. Such service shall be computed from the time-in-rate (TIR) date for an E-6. If broken service is involved, a PO1 must have served a total of at least 1 year as an E-6 as of 1 October of the year application is made.
E-6 applicants must complete all eligibility requirements for E-7 (except TIR and LTC) and must successfully compete in the annual Navy-wide examination for advancement to Chief Petty Officer, receiving a final multiple equal to, or greater than, the minimum final multiple for E-7 selection board eligibility. Personnel accepted to the LDO program attend leadership training via the LDO/CWO Officer Indoctrination School. Therefore Leadership Training Continuum is not required for E-6 taking the E-7 exam for the express purpose of applying for LDO. E-6 applicants must forward a copy of their most current examination profile sheet with their application. An E-6 is exempt from the requirements of this subparagraph when notification has been received by the commanding officer that the individual is a selectee for Chief Petty Officer or that advancement to Chief Petty Officer has been authorized.
Active duty enlisted personnel must have completed at least 8, but not more than 16 years of active naval service (day-for-day) exclusive of Active Duty for Training (ADT) in the Naval, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard Reserve as of 1 October of the year application is made.