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  • The operations department of the 1980s
  • Onto the 1990s
  • New roles for PWOs
  • Final thought...
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January 16, 2023

A Danish view on Warfare Organisation in ships of frigate size and above


Systematic Product Manager for Maritime Stig Meyer is a retired Commander from the Royal Danish Navy. He is a former Principal Warfare Officer (PWO) and contributed an article to the Royal Navy's Naval Review publication commemorating 50 years of their esteemed PWO course. It was printed in the Autumn 2022 edition, Volume 110, Number 4.


In this article I would like to show the importance of acknowledging the development in doctrine and new material; and follow up with the logical consequence of adjustment for a naval vessel’s command structure.

Figure 1: Warfare Organisation in the 1980s

During the Cold War, the Royal Danish Navy’s frigates were designed, equipped, and manned to fight the maritime battle in the Baltic Sea and adjacent waters. The Warfare Organisation aboard these vessels was designed to primarily support high-tempo engagements in a relative short duration i.e., short time at sea.

The warfare organisation consisted of two separate departments – Weapons and Operations (figure 1) working independently, regarded as equally important in the organisation, and both reporting directly to the Commanding Officer (CO).

The operations department of the 1980s

The Weapons Department was headed by two warfare officers, with a focus on Anti-Air Warfare, and responsible for weapons allocation and weapons employment within all warfare areas.

The Operations Department was also headed by two warfare officers with specialisation in Above-Water Warfare and Under-Water Warfare supported by Electronic Warfare specialists and Helicopter and Aircraft Controllers. The Operations Department was responsible for the operations planning, including the tactical estimate and the consecutive development of OPGEN, OPTASK, etc., building the tactical warfare pictures, and handling Surface and Sub-Surface Warfare. The Operations department also supported the Battle Watch Officer running the ship’s combat operations. The organisation was based on a continuous two-shift watch having half of the entire operational manning on duty at any time.

This was the warfare organisation I found myself being part of as a young warfare officer in the late 1980s, when I was assigned to a corvette of the NIELS JUEL-class as second Operations Officer.

Onto the 1990s

In the early 1990s the Danish Navy re-joined the NATO Standing Naval Forces Atlantic (SNFL) with the corvettes after a period without participation due to the decommission of the larger frigates of the PEDER SKRAM-class. The operational scheme in SNFL included longer times at sea in a mix of high-tempo exercises and transits between exercises or different operations areas e.g., transiting from the Mediterranean to the Baltic Sea.

In the same period the Danish Navy deployed a corvette to the Arabian Gulf in support of the US led operation to liberate Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. This operation also brought prolonged periods at sea and a requirement for continuous planning.

To me now as an Operations Officer it quickly became very clear that the current organisation did not work in the new operational environment. The division of work between the four warfare officers was unbalanced, with too much of the workload and responsibility resting on the operations officers. Running the ship’s operations as Battle Watch Officer and handling the specific warfare did not allow sufficient time to plan the next exercise or task.

New roles for PWOs

Figure 2: Warfare Organisation early 90s.

Being part of the SNFL gave me a unique opportunity to discuss the warfare organisation used in the different navies such as the Royal Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy, and German Navy. Armed with the inspiration from other navies and my own experience, I drafted a proposal to change the national warfare organisation. This was used by the Royal Danish Naval Command to implement a new national warfare structure, depicted in figure 2.

This organisation assigned three of the warfare officers as Principal Warfare Officers (PWO), with each responsible for one of the three key warfare areas, and lifting the Operations Officer up as the single department head reporting to the CO. The Operations Officer was responsible for the overall planning supported by the individual PWO.

Aside from their specialisations, the PWOs were also tasked to take on the role of duty Battle Watch Officer and run the operations in a three-shift rotation. This was workable as long as the ship was in a single warfare threat environment and during low threat transits.

In a higher threat environment, the duty roster would be changed having two PWOs and half the manning on duty at the same time. In this case the Operations Officer would join one of the teams and together with the senior take on the task as Battle Watch Officer for each watch team. 

Figure 3: Combat Team structure.

This warfare organisation continued relatively unchanged until the new, current frigates were equipped with more high-end warfare sensors and weapons, such as the recent installation of the SM2 long range surface-to-air missile and the planned installation of a towed array sonar in combination with the ASW-version of the Sikorsky MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter. This introduction of more capable warfare systems required more focus on handling the warfares at a higher level and planning ahead. A new structure has been developed depicted in figure 3.

Final thought...

The new structure works with Warfare Combat Teams. The Air Combat Team include the PWO Air and a new PWO E dealing with Intelligence and Electronic Warfare, where the Surface and Sub-Surface Combat Team include the PWO Surface and PWO Underwater. The two teams vary in size pending which type of frigate they belong to e.g., the Air Combat Team is larger in the Air Defence frigates compared to the team in the Anti-Submarine frigates.

Pending the threat level, the Battle Watch Teams can be organised in a three- or even four-shift watches. This way the Operations Officer can remain outside the duty-teams only stepping in as Battle Watch Officer, when the ship is at first degree of readiness doing his business keeping the overall situational awareness and looking into planning for the next upcoming task. 

This current warfare organisation is tightly linked to the overall fighting organization adopted from the Royal Navy’s “Fighting the Internal Battle”. Here the Operations Officer act as the External Battle Advisor to the CO alongside the Weapons- and Electronics Officer, who is the Internal Battle advisor.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the statement that it requires an ongoing effort to keep your warfare organisation updated and in concurrence with the onboard systems, doctrine, and operational environment.  

About the author:

Commander senior grade Stig Meyer joined the Danish Navy in 1975 and graduated from the Naval Academy 1985. He spent his sea-time in fast attack craft, corvettes, and frigates serving as helicopter and aircraft controller, principle warfare officer, operations officer, executive officer, and commanding officer. He additionally served four years in NATO Maritime HQ Northwood as Branch Head Policy & Concepts and maritime planner. He retired in 2010 concluding his career in the Danish Navy as commanding officer for the Navy’s Warfare and Training Centre.

Commander Stig Meyer is now working for Systematic as Product Manager Maritime.

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