The Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard -- all the military branches except the Air Force -- offer warrant officer options as ways for enlisted personnel to enter the officer ranks. The Army and Navy warrant officer programs are similar, but the Navy offers the program later in sailors' careers and gives some the chance to progress to higher commissioned officer positions.
Army Warrant Officers
A warrant officer is different from a traditional commissioned officer. Army warrant officers typically start as enlisted personnel who choose a specialty, often a technical specialty such as an engineer, although some might serve in other positions such as intelligence or human resources. Warrant officers advance within their fields of specialty, unlike other commissioned officers who advance to general command positions without necessarily committing to specialties. Warrant officers serve in various locations, including overseas duty stations.
Navy Warrant Officers
Navy warrant officers also move up the ranks from enlisted personnel in specific fields -- often engineering specialties. The Navy offers both land and sea specialties, such as nuclear power technician and diving officer. Modeled after the British Royal Navy warrant officer program, the Navy first established the rank of warrant officer in the late 1700s.
How They're Similar
The Army and Navy follow the U.S. Department of Defense military pay scale, so warrant officers in both branches make the same amount based on their rank and years of service. For example, a warrant officer in the W-1 pay grade with 12 years of service makes $4,247.70 per month as of 2014. In the W-4 pay grade, a warrant officer with 12 years of service makes $5,493.90. Both branches allow warrant officers to earn commissioned positions as chief warrant officers; the Navy promotes warrant officers to commissioned limited duty officers as well. The Army and Navy also provide warrant officer ranks to enlisted personnel who complete their piloting programs.
How They're Different
The Army often allows enlisted personnel to apply to become warrant officers after they've become proficient in their chosen specialties, often after nine to 12 years of service. Most Navy warrant officers receive their status after 14 to 20 years as enlisted sailors -- at least 12 years of service are required. The Army provides additional training to warrant officers in their specialties, as well as leadership training through the noncommissioned officer education system. The Navy usually promotes warrant officers without additional training. Those who complete the Navy pilot program become commissioned chief warrant officers immediately, unlike Army pilots, who begin as regular warrant officers. In the Army, the program is open to both new recruits and other enlisted personnel, while the Navy accepts only enlisted personnel with a rank of at least E-5.