I would echo much of what gcclarke just wrote.
I couldn't imagine recommending that someone enrol as MARS unless it is something you really, really want to do, I would think at the exclusion of any other occupation. Even if I had joined the Regular Force and had a wider opportunity of at-sea officer occupations, I would still have chosen MARS and only MARS.
MARS training is too short, frankly, but that is the way it is. Everyone I had the pleasure of instructing at NOTC were bright, hard working officers, all of who had received top marks in their academic careers and all of who were unaccustomed to failure. MARS training is so different from anything most people had previously done in their lives, that, with the exception of the really switched on ones, most found it extremely difficult. I have no understanding of engineering except for what my Chief Engineer tells me when something is broken. This is usually relayed in the measured tones one would use when speaking to a child who just doesn’t get it.
I would assume that someone with an engineering or logistics education would find some manner of familiarity in their naval engineering or logistics training. I really don’t think the same apples to MARS. My Arts degree did not prepare me for the joys of vector physics, spherical trig, ship’s stability or meteorology, to name a few. And as soon as you start to grasp any one of those topics, you are moving on to another one. Then you have to lead in an inspirational manner. Captain of your football team, kind of thing. Heck, you barely have a grasp of your own skills, and now you are expected to be bale to recognize the faults of your team – and correct them? And you must demonstrate an ability to do this before you even leave MARS IV – before you even leave the simulator actually. It cripples a lot of people who tend not to take it very well because they were, up until that point, really good at most things they had ever attempted. So yeah, we fail a lot of people.
Command at sea is, from what I am told, the most fun you can have in the Navy with your clothes on. I hope so, I have busted my a$$ for the last 15 years to get to a position to Command. And yes, MARS is and remains, obviously, the only route to Command at sea. Now, the situation is not quite as dire as gcclarke makes it out to be, but Command at-sea is still the primary route for MARS officers - and the ONLY route to Flag rank. A couple of days ago, CMS released the latest Naval Officers' career progression plan. It is to be given the widest distribution to Naval Officers, so I will post the parts relevant to this dicussion below (MARS and NTO):
The demanding operational challenge of service at sea represents a unique opportunity to practice leadership and war-fighting skills that are at the heart of the naval profession. Accordingly, achieving effect at sea remains the raison d’être of the professional military mariner, and will continue to form the basis of the officer development model. For this reason, the longstanding practice of selection of our most senior leaders from the sea-going command stream will not change. Indeed, I expect every MARS officer to vigorously pursue command at sea. Similarly, I view the developmental foundation of Naval Technical Officers and Naval Logistics Officers to be built through service in the Fleet, and subsequent shore command opportunities are key in the development of these respective communities’ most senior leaders.
Command Stream. The first group of MARS officers is represented by those employed in the command stream. The completion of early navigation training, progression through ‘D level’ and ORO postings; the attainment of command qualification; and appointment as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer will remain the primary focus in the first half of their career. It is most important to have LCdrs complete the Joint Command and Staff Program (JCSP) prior to their tour as Executive Officer, and ideally, an officer will have served at least one tour in NDHQ prior to assuming command at sea. From a career progression perspective, submarine command shall continue to be viewed as an equivalent to a surface warship XO tour.
In almost all cases, promotion to Captain(N) is dependent on successful surface warship command, and is recognition of the potential to reach Flag rank. Post-command employment will necessarily focus on operational and strategic level exposure and development. In order to ensure that future senior leaders have a full appreciation of issues affecting the Navy and the CF, mobility is essential. Every attempt will be made to ensure that these officers receive a broad geographic exposure to the Navy, with emphasis on senior command billets and demanding NDHQ staff positions. The requirement for senior leaders to have an awareness of, exposure to, and an ability to successfully operate in the strategic environment, something which can only be gained through work in NDHQ, cannot be overstated. Pursuit of a Post Graduate degree, Professional Development Period 4 (DP4) qualification (National War College) and early second language proficiency are key professional development requirements for progression to the highest ranks.
Peer competition is the cornerstone of our merit process, and only the very best from this command stream will one day command our Fleets, Formations and the Navy. Moreover, it must be understood that not all will be provided the opportunity to exercise their command qualification. The Naval Succession Planning Board (NSPB) will remain the objective vehicle by which officers are selected for sea-going command appointments, and by extension, potential future institutional leadership positions. However, those officers who are not selected for command are essential to realizing the vision of a credible and relevant navy for today and a strong navy of tomorrow, and they will be selectively employed to this end. In special circumstances, it is foreseeable that select numbers of these officers would attain the rank of Capt(N).
Institutional Leaders. The second group of MARS officers encompasses those post-ORO officers who do not achieve command certification, but remain desirous of serving in a wide range of challenging positions. Demanding NDHQ staff positions, operational level HQs and international staffs form the majority of positions for employment consideration. Although Flag rank is not a possibility for this group of officers, I anticipate that the breadth of experience they would accumulate would mean that a certain number could achieve the rank of Commander and, on very rare occasions and in specific circumstances, attain the rank of Captain(N). Institutional level professional development (ie. JCSP, SLT) would be atypical and any further investment in training and education would be tailored to meet the demands of future specific employment (ie. HR, resource management, Ammunition Technical Officer, oceanography, project management).
Staff Support. It is important to recognize that the minimum professional basis for leading the application of force in the maritime environment is the ORO course. The third stream of MARS officers encompasses those who do not hold this qualification. Officers in this area would be career managed in a manner that would develop staff expertise in a number of fields that are meaningful to the Navy and the CF, and it is envisioned that a select few could progress to LCdr to undertake niche employment opportunities. As a general rule, NDHQ offers the majority of employment opportunities for this group of officers. Professional development beyond that required for niche expertise or specific taskings would rarely be considered.
NAVAL TECHNICAL OFFICERS
12. The NTO is in a unique military occupation devoted to naval operations and associated support. The raison d’être of the NTO is to serve as a naval officer, all the while gaining valuable technical expertise and materiel management skills that can be leveraged for operational success.
13. Sea experience for the NTO is vitally important to his/her foundational development. While academic and theoretical knowledge are cornerstones of the NTO’s cognitive and technical abilities, these elements are finely honed under the operational conditions found only in sea going units. As a starting point, all NTOs will successfully complete Phase VI training to achieve occupational competency that is the entry-level qualification for all technical officers. To build on this initial foundation, it is expected that all officers will strive for Head of Department (HOD) qualification and subsequent selection as HOD in a sea-going unit. The experience gained in the HOD tour is invaluable in terms of developing the technical leadership in operations while building significant management skills for downstream postings.
14. Post Graduate (PG) training opportunities are numerous and represent highly beneficial academic qualifications that serve to broaden the individual’s knowledge base while acquiring advanced technical expertise in a chosen field. Aspiring officers are encouraged to pursue a PG degree, normally at the rank of Lieutenant (N) / Lieutenant Commander, in order to provide the greatest benefit to the Navy while broadening their own skill-sets. Technical, project management, and broad management (MBA, MEng Mgt) post-graduate studies represent important professional development for those officers seeking leadership positions within the NTO community.
15. Employment opportunities and patterns vary greatly for NTOs, and there are a number of positions available to acquire the breadth of experience required for NAV ENG employment. Tours of duty in NDHQ in general, and ADM (Mat)/DGMEPM and DGMPD(L&S) in particular, are considered essential to NTO development, particularly during the post-HOD period. In this milieu, the technical and materiel support requirements necessitate strong leadership skills, expertise in resource management, project management, strategic planning acumen and specialist engineering knowledge. NTOs are entrusted with major capital acquisition and fleet sustainment activities, such as project management, Life Cycle Management, and Class Manager positions. In these challenging positions, NTOs must effectively blend their leadership, operational experience and technical expertise to enhance current and future operational materiel readiness objectives.
16. The spectrum of opportunities outside of the mainstream technical field is far-reaching. These ‘purple’ positions denote jobs in the wider CF that broaden an officer’s appreciation of the overall CF and yield a greater understanding of the corporate organization. Positions in areas such as recruiting, training and leadership academies, personnel management, UN missions are valuable to the NTO and the Navy. In addition, an early appreciation of civilian HR management issues is a key enabler to NTO development.
17. In addition to DP4 qualification and a CBC second language profile, the prerequisites for Flag rank include demonstrated success in operational units, strategic staff positions and command appointments. Coastal command opportunities (such as School Cmdts and GTO at the Commander rank, and CO FMF/BComd at the Capt(N) rank), are available to the NTO as determined by the NSPB. These appointments are considered significant opportunities to demonstrate future potential for positions of greater responsibility and career advancement. Equally significant roles to demonstrate future potential are the NTO operational support positions in the Formations (such as FMF Departmental Head/FTA/N37 at the Cdr rank) and the Headquarters Matrix and Project Management leadership positions (such as DGMEPM Section Heads or MCP DCM at the Cdr rank or DGMEPM Director or PM MCP at the Capt(N) rank.)
Hope this post helps with your decision-making process.