Technical officers in the armed forces are responsible for the maintenance and serviceability of crafts, vehicles and weapons
Leading a team of specialists, you'll ensure that ships, aircraft and land vehicles, as well as their associated weapons systems, support equipment and communications systems are all maintained and ready for use.
You'll also act as a project manager on a base or construction site, or in research and the development of new equipment and systems. Managing and directing your team to respond accordingly when circumstances demand action, and best utilising their skills and competence.
As a technical officer, your role will include not only management responsibility but also a considerable extension of your technical experience to identify, investigate and solve problems. Sometimes, this experience will involve advanced development and applications, such as equipment development with a manufacturer.
In the field, this involves sorting out basic problems, for example, providing water supplies, building bridges or even setting up a refugee camp and providing all services. In combat, it could be constructing a helicopter pad, destroying a bridge or clearing a minefield.
The activities you undertake will revolve around the command and management of a team of specialists, who will include artisan tradespeople, technicians, engineers and other professionals.
You'll often need to:
- assess situations and identify technical problems, investigating the causes of defects and overseeing repairs
- prepare new or modify existing operational strategies and plans
- allocate equipment, personnel and resources effectively to solve problems and achieve missions
- keep ships, aircraft, vehicles and/or other equipment operational, as well as infrastructure and lines of communication
- find 'best possible' solutions quickly
- manage personnel, equipment and resources and act as a project, production or site manager
- direct technical personnel, both service and civilian, to operate, maintain and repair all equipment
- assess priorities, plans and maintenance routines, and liaise with external repair facilities
- teach, instruct and demonstrate to staff, and assess the effectiveness of their training
- carry out essential administration, including records, budgets and accounts
- act as a consultant for all engineering matters, including fault diagnosis and operational status
- cooperate with designers and manufacturers on the research and development of new equipment and systems
- keep up to date in your specialist area and in developments of the whole of your professional technical field
- take responsibility for the welfare, discipline, morale and career development of the team of technicians you manage, including training and developing staff and preparing them for promotion
- communicate effectively with direct reports, colleagues with other roles and responsibilities, and professional groups, through briefings, technical and operational reports and presentations.
- The starting salary for graduate army officer recruits is £28,861, rising to £34,690 upon successful completion of initial officer training.
- Officers in the Royal Air Force start on £28,000 and earn £34,690 after completion of their initial officer training.
- Royal Navy officers start on £27,272 and earn £32,780 after competing training at Britannia Royal Naval College.
- Salaries at senior levels vary according to rank, experience and amount of time served, but can range from £46,000 to £118,000.
Benefits include subsidised accommodation and food, free medical and dental care, discounted rail travel, on-site fitness and entertainment facilities and a non-contributory pension scheme.
When on operations, you'll be working in a challenging, stressful and sometimes dangerous environment, with long hours in difficult or adverse conditions. Many officers work in the UK on bases and stations where security restrictions operate, but there is also the opportunity for prolonged periods abroad or on board ship.
What to expect
- Job rotation and relocation can be expected every two to three years. The extent of relocation, travel and family separation will depend on the service and posting.
- You'll receive numerous additional benefits, discounts and subsidised living allowances that help your salary to go even further.
- Opportunities for female graduates are good, with most posts open to both men and women.
- Travel within a working day, absence from home at night and overseas work or travel are frequent.
- Self-employment is not possible, but you can make flexible working requests.
A degree is not essential for entry to armed forces officer training, though the majority of applicants do have one. See the individual armed forces websites for details of alternative routes into this career.
All three armed forces recruit graduates as technical officers and provide initial officer training and continuation of technical and professional training.
The academic requirements for entry into technical and engineering commissions vary between the forces and even between different branches. For example:
- For the RAF role of aerosystems engineer officer, you should have an accredited undergraduate or postgraduate degree in an appropriate engineering or scientific subject, although other degrees might be accepted.
- The Royal Navy requires graduates to have a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics for its air engineer officer and weapon engineer officer roles.
- In the Corps of Royal Engineers, a regiment of the Army, an engineering or technical degree is not a prerequisite, although you may be able to gain chartered engineer status or qualify as a chartered surveyor as you develop in your career.
- The Royal Signals will consider graduates of any subject, although their first preferences include electrical engineering, computer science, software engineering and telecommunications.
- The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) offers a fully accredited route to chartered engineer status for all. Candidates must have a degree in engineering - either mechanical, electrical, electronic, civil, aeronautical or production - or a degree in computer or software science, IT, mathematics or physics.
If you have a technical higher education qualification other than a degree, you should seek advice from the university liaison officer (ULO) or local armed forces careers office of the service you wish to join, as acceptability varies between forces, depending on both the subject you have studied and the specialism you are interested in pursuing.
In each branch, there are non-graduate technician roles. See the individual recruitment websites for each service.
Generally, you must be a UK, Commonwealth or Irish citizen and have been resident in the UK or Ireland for five years prior to entry to the armed forces, but some exceptions and restrictions apply. Age limits also apply.
All three services offer student bursaries or sponsorship, but amounts vary according to the subject you are studying and the needs of the service. University service units also pay students who join and attend training. Up-to-date information on bursaries, entry requirements and familiarisation visits is available from ULOs, local armed forces careers offices and on the three armed forces websites.
Assessment for the Army is via the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB). The AOSB process includes a series of individual and group tests of your physical, mental, intellectual and practical abilities, along with in-depth interviews.
Selection for the RAF involves the Officer and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC), which includes aptitude tests and a selection interview. The process tests personality, initiative, fitness and aptitude.
For the Royal Navy, potential officers must attend a two-day Admiralty Interview Board (AIB). This involves a formal interview and a discussion exercise, together with fitness and mental agility tasks to assess verbal and non-verbal reasoning skills, concentration and spatial orientation.
The selection process for each of the armed forces is rigorous and high standards are demanded from applicants. Evidence of leadership potential is sought by all, and a perceived lack of service knowledge and a limited grasp of current affairs are cited as common shortcomings at the interview stage, so you should pay particular attention to these areas when preparing.
It's recommended that you start to build up fitness levels before you commence basic training, as this will enable you to feel more confident and enjoy the training more.
You'll need to have:
- excellent communication and presentation skills
- the ability to identify, investigate and resolve situations and problems
- integrity and a commitment to take and exercise responsibility
- leadership potential - all officers are expected to be leaders and managers
- the ability to think clearly and act decisively under pressure and in challenging situations
- a good health record and high level of physical fitness, with good eyesight and colour perception.
Pre-entry experience is not needed, but some training could be helpful. Check out cadet forces, the Army Reserve or university service units, including:
- University Air Squadrons (UAS)
- University Officer Training Corps (UOTC)
- University Royal Navy Units (URNUs)
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The four employers within the armed forces are the:
- Royal Air Force (RAF)
- Royal Marines
- Royal Navy.
The armed services are an arm of the government, which defines their purpose as to:
- defend the United Kingdom and its interests
- assist in keeping the peace around the world
- deliver emergency humanitarian relief.
Much of the time, the armed services achieve these aims through membership of alliances, particularly the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At times however, unilateral responsibilities can mean that armed services must act alone, and therefore need to be equipped and trained for all aspects of modern warfare.
Britain's membership of the United Nations (UN) and its permanent place at the Security Council at times necessitates the use of armed force in defence of international security and in support of humanitarian and peacekeeping initiatives.
The services have an important diplomatic function in representing Britain overseas and are also involved in training other countries' armed forces, both in the UK and abroad.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Army Careers
- Royal Air Force Careers
- Royal Navy Careers
- armed forces university liaison officers (ULOs), careers fairs and on-campus presentations
- local armed forces recruitment and careers offices.
If you're successful at the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB), you will go on to the officer training course, which lasts for 44 weeks, at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
This comprehensive programme includes practical skills training, such as:
- drill and fitness training
- military skills.
It also includes personal skills training, such as:
- mental agility
Adventurous training also takes place, which involves a course, followed by an expedition to test your ability to perform under challenging conditions.
Graduate officer recruits to the Royal Navy undertake a 30-week Basic Training period, as known as Initial Naval Training (Officer) (INT(O)), at the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth. This is followed by further specialist training at sea and on shore bases.
The training for technical graduates entering the RAF differs according to the role, but most officers begin their career with the 30-week Initial Officer Training course at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. This involves four weeks' preparation in fitness and self-discipline to aid the transition from a civilian to an Armed Forces way of life, followed by military and leadership training.
After initial officer training, you'll be posted to your chosen regiment or corps, to a ship for fleet training, or to a squadron or station respectively, where you'll undertake specialist training in the detailed skills and particular knowledge you'll need before assuming your first command.
To develop specific technical skills and knowledge before assuming your first command, you're likely to be selected for a sequence of command, staff training and further professional courses, which may include postgraduate study at the College of Management and Technology, a college of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom at Shrivenham, or other universities or colleges, depending on your specialism.
Further promotion is normally into increasingly senior staff posts. Advancement involves increased responsibility and may lead to a command and staff training course at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, part of the Defence Academy, as preparation for a senior command or managerial appointment.
Such appointments are not limited to roles within your own service but may be joint service posts or could involve secondment to international bodies, such as NATO and the UN.
Throughout your career in the armed forces, you'll find that your 'officer commanding' and your commanding officer (in the Army, usually a major and lieutenant colonel respectively) are directly responsible for your professional development and will act as your professional mentors. Continuing professional development (CPD) and training are features of a service career and provide opportunities to gain qualifications and accreditation with civilian professional bodies.
One example of CPD is that officers in the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) will, after Sandhurst, complete the 18-week Military Systems Engineering Course (LAND). It’s also possible to complete a 46-week postgraduate Advanced Command and Staff Course, delivered at Shrivenham.
Other external management courses are encouraged, which together with professional experience, will ultimately lead to chartered engineer status. These can often be attended at a local college and secondment opportunities may be awarded to support learning.
Many opportunities exist for officers upon retirement from the armed forces because of the management, professional training and experience gained during service.