SPARKS, Nevada — Huge changes are coming to officer promotions promotes officers, and they're coming next year, according to the head of aviation officer assignments.

Promotion zones will be a thing of the past, and for the first time, you'll be able to overcome your date of rank to be more competitive, Capt. Dan Dwyer told an audience packed with junior and senior officers Friday at the annual Tailhook Reunion near Reno, Nevada.

Officers have long lamented the Navy's strict "golden career paths," longing for a more talent-based promotion system that values education and other accomplishments rather sustained performance along a cookie-cutter career track. The most recent outcry came in early September, when some aviators were dismayed to find O-4 selection rates below their peers in the surface and submarine communities.than a specific mix of billets held in a specific amount of time.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced earlier this year made the first announcement in a May speech at the Naval Academy that the service was looking at doing away with officer year groups altogether, which box personnel into competing with peersothers who entered the serviceleet at the same time, regardless of where their careers have taken them.

Some junior officers will have seniority over others based on the date they were commissioned or from higher class standing at the Naval Academy, rather than accomplishments as an officer, which can influence their promotions for years. Officer promotions aren't competitive until they reach the O-4 board.On top of that, officers are also given a date of rank based on their class ranking the year they graduated college, so that those ranked at the top of their class have slightly more time in grade than those with lower class rankings and are thus moved to the top of the promotion priority list./I rephrased because I only found a reference that suggests this is true for USNA, rather than ROTC and STA21/sf

That system will still be in play for the next few years, but Dwyer did dropped a bombshell: Starting with the fiscal year 2017 selection boards, the top 10 percent of officers selected for O-4 and above, based on their fitness reports, will have their dates of rank reset, so that how they did in college is less of a factor than how they've performed in the fleet.

"If you're a front runner in the fleet and you had a mid-pack date of rank, and you have since turned it on and you promote at the top of that promotion rank, then your date of rank will be adjusted and you'll pin on rank ahead of your peers," he said.

It will be the Navy's first move to a talent-based promotion system, he added.

And there's more. Officers who become eligible for a promotion later than their peers, or who aren't selected their first time before a promotion board, often end up sporting a scarlet A, for "above-zone."

He painted a picture of a Naval Academy alum who gets the opportunity to earn a master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology right after graduation. Then he goes to flight school, becomes an EA-18G Growler pilot, and after a tour as a fleet replacement squadron student, he does two deployments with a fleet squadron.

"He’s now highly valued in that squadron ... The squadron goes on another deployment, the CO wants to keep him a couple extra months to train the next cadre of JOs, so he gets an extension in the fleet," Dwyer said.

Next he moves onto his first shore tour as an FRS instructor, and within a year, he's up for promotion to O-4. The problem, Dwyer said, is he's now years behind the others in his year group and considered above-zone.

"But obviously he's a very talented, capable, valued naval aviator and our system could [possibly] not select him for promotion," he said. "So how do we maintain that those types of officers don't slip through the cracks?"

The answer is getting rid of the above- and in-zone promotion designations in board packages, he said, starting next year. Rather than giving a promotion to an above-zone officer at the expense of an in-zone officer, the board will just see one big pot of officers up for promotion.

Not only will that policy change the game for officers with non-standard career paths, it will be particularly valuable for aviators and NFOson officers, who spendhave an extended training pipeline but still compete with surface warfare, submarine and other unrestricted line officers who report for their first sea tours sooner.

As a result, other communities have seenbeen seeing O-4 promotion rates over 90 percent, for example, while aviators and flight officers are making lieutenant commander at closer to 70 percent.

Removing the zones won't change that dynamic, but it will give above-zone aviators a better shot at a promotion, because it will remove the "negative connotation" that comes with it, Dwyer said.

Another project is a Title 10 legislation change led by Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Bill Moran, Dwyer said. NPC will ask Congress to allow promotion selectees to defer a promotion board for a year if they feel they aren't competitive enough yet, but think they'll be a better candidate in the next cycle.

That change will be up to lawmakerson Capitol Hill, but for lieutenants and above eyeing a promotion next year, huge changes are on the way.