One of Newport, Rhode Island's most enduring and prominent landmarks is the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) on Coaster Harbor Island in Narragansett Bay. The Naval War College's missions today are developing strategic and operational leaders, helping the Chief of Naval Operations define the future Navy, strengthening maritime security cooperation and supporting combat readiness.

Since the first class met October 6, 1884, in an austere loft with nine students, more than 24,000 U.S. military and international officers, as well as hundreds of senior federal service civilian executives, have graduated from NWC.

Throughout its history, the college has held fast to the belief, first articulated by its founding president, Rear Admiral Stephen B. Luce, that ,"The War College is a place of original research on all questions relating to war and to statesmanship connected with war, or the prevention of war."

Vice Admiral Stansfield Turner, the college's thirty-seventh president, added focus and specificity to that depiction of the character of the institution when he charged the college to "Always keep in mind the product which this country ... needs is military leaders with the capability of solving complex problems and executing their decisions. You must keep your sights set on decision making or problem solving as your objective."

The intent of Luce and Turner constitute the strategic tradition and purpose of the Naval War College. This strategic tradition has a very practical and steadfast influence in everything that the college does. The college's Professional Military Education (PME) programs are grounded in this strategic tradition and are intended to prepare leaders for the challenges of operational and/or strategic level leadership over the remainder of their careers as decision makers and problem solvers.

Each year, approximately 600 outstanding mid-career level officers of the Navy, other U.S. services, civilian federal agencies, and international naval officers come to the U.S. Naval War College as resident students to pursue a rigorous 10-month course of postgraduate studies following in the footsteps of such notable War College graduates such as:  

  • Fleet Admirals Chester W. Nimitz, Ernest J. King, and William "Bull" Halsey
  • Admiral Raymond Spruance
  • Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs
  • General Michael Hagee, former Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps
  • Rear Admiral Alan B. Shepard, first American in space
  • General John M. Shalikashvili, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Admiral Willliam J. Fallon, Commander, U.S. Central Command and
  • Admiral James G. Stavridis, Commander, U.S. Southern Command.

More than half the graduates of the college's senior international course, the Naval Command College, have gone on to become flag or general officers, and more than 190 have been chosen to head their respective services.

The Naval War College's Professional Military Education curriculum now focuses on three core areas: Strategy and Policy, National Security Affairs and Joint Military Operations.

The 10-month curriculum for resident students is divided into trimesters of three to four months. Additionally, three abbreviated 12-day core curriculum courses are offered annually for U.S. military reservists.

NWC convocations are traditionally scheduled in August, and the majority of students graduate the following June. However, two smaller classes of senior and intermediate-grade U.S. officers begin their academic years in either the winter or spring trimesters, which begin in November and March.

The NWC is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to award qualified resident U.S. graduates with a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies and accredited by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff to award JPME Phase I credit for the intermediate program and Phase II credit for the senior course. Graduates from the international programs receive a NWC diploma.

The Naval War College consists of six academic colleges.

  • The College of Naval Warfare is a residential program for senior-grade officers from all five U.S. military services and their civilian executive counterparts from various federal agencies.
  • The College of Naval Command and Staff is an intermediate residential program, attended by lieutenant commanders, majors and their civilian counterparts.
  • The Naval Command College, established in 1956 by Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, then the U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations, is attended by senior international naval officers. These officers represent approximately 45 nations a year.
  • The Naval Staff College is for intermediate-grade international naval officers who have completed eight to 15 years of military service.
  • The College of Distance Education provides active duty officers, reservists, eligible civilian employees of the U.S. government and a limited number of allied naval officers the opportunity to complete the NWC curriculum, receiving a diploma and Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) Phase I credit. Students may either attend seminars at selected military bases throughout the U.S. via the Fleet Seminar Program, or complete their diploma requirements via a web-enabled, CDROM-based, or correspondence course programs. In the last four years, the College of Distance Education's non-resident student population increased from a total of just over 3,000 to 26,676. Most of this unprecedented increase was attributed to the development and fielding of the Introductory, Basic, Primary Enlisted, and Primary Officer PME courses on the Navy Knowledge Online learning system.
  • The College of Operational and Strategic Leadership (COSL), formally established on October 1, 2007, provides Professional Military Education (PME), focusing on leadership development and integrating leadership, ethics, and character development into the Navy's PME Continuum for Navy officer and enlisted personnel. NWC developed and delivers the senior flag officer curriculum called the Joint/Combined Force Maritime Component Commander's (JFMCC/CFMCC) course for select groups of flag, general, and senior executive service officers. The NWC Assist and Assess Team improves the U.S. Navy's capability at the Operational Level of War by helping to turn the Navy's Maritime Headquarters with Maritime Operations Center (MHQ/MOC) vision from concept into reality. The team assists fleet MHQ/MOCs to operate effectively and assesses fleet MHQ/MOCs to support U.S. Fleet Forces Command in accrediting these MHQ/MOCs. Additionally, the Assist and Assess Team supports Geographic Combatant Commander certification of Joint Force Maritime Component Commanders and in sharing best practices and lessons learned throughout the Fleet. This focus also produced the Maritime Staff Operators Course (MSOC), which began in 2007 and now educates almost 1,000 students each year. Additionally, the Navy Operational Planners Course has tripled throughput, since 2004. The College is engaged in student-led operational-level leadership research conducted by the multi-service and international officer Stockdale Group, and the College has established a Professional Military Ethics Program that provides a series of lectures, panels, seminars and discussion groups to further officers' understanding and application of ethical leadership.

The college's Center for Naval Warfare Studies is central to the Navy's research efforts in maritime strategic thinking. One of its departments, War Gaming, introduced at Newport in 1887, allows students, joint and fleet commanders, and representatives of the Department of Defense and various governmental agencies to test operational simulations and advanced strategic concepts more than 60 times a year. Utilizing off-the-shelf technologies of video teleconferencing, computer simulation and World Wide Web capabilities, the Decision Support Center offers users an unparalleled selection of information gathering tools to support critical outcomes.

In 2005, responding to the need to examine maritime strategy, the Naval War College embarked on a collaborative effort that produced great insight from an extensive scenario analysis and war-gaming effort and a series of high-level conferences, symposia, and other professional exchanges with maritime partners around the world. At the 18th International Seapower Symposium, hosted at the Naval War College in October 2007, the service chiefs from the Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Navy presented the results of the work of the previous two years before the largest gathering of high-ranking naval leadership ever assembled in the world. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower will be an influential document for years to come, and as it is discussed, analyzed, argued, and gamed, the Naval War College will continue to have a significant role.

Founders Hall, the college's original home, is an 1819 structure that was once the City of Newport's poor house. Now, as the college's museum, it remains as a National Historic Landmark on the 27-acre campus.

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