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Engineering in the Armed Forces

Royal Engineer in AfghanistanWithout engineering, the armed forces would be stuck using pointy sticks. Find out about the different roles for engineers in the Army, Navy and RAF.

What are the armed forces?

There are three branches to the British Armed Forces:

  • The British Army (land-based)
  • The Royal Navy (sea-based)
  • The Royal Air Force (RAF) (air-based)

Engineers are important to all three services, but the roles available will be different - you probably won’t put up many bridges in the RAF, or service many submarines in the Army.

Full-time and reserve roles

Not everyone in the armed forces does it full-time. There are also reserve forces, made up of people who train in their spare time and are only sometimes called up to full-time service. The largest and best-known of these is the Territorial Army (TA), which makes up around a quarter of the Army’s overall manpower.

Although reservists receive the same training as any other member of the armed forces and can do most of the same jobs, they train much less intensively and so are normally expected to have more qualifications than regular members when they join.

Reservists are still paid. In the TA, you receive pay for every quarter-day of training you complete, plus a bonus when you complete your minimum training commitment for the year.

There are two kinds of TA unit: regional and national. Regional units are more common, while national units tend to offer more specialised roles. There are three engineering units within the TA; you can find out more about them on the Army website.

Training and education

Many people think training in the armed forces is all taking weapons apart, crawling through mud and learning to follow orders - and that’s certainly involved. But engineers also have the opportunity to learn engineering skills - some specific to the military, some more closely related to civilian life - which are backed up by real qualifications such as NVQs.

The forces’ recruitment information will include what qualifications are available in each role. If you are in a role where you are responsible for other people, you might also be able to gain a recognised management qualification on the basis of your training and experience.

Engineering opportunities

There are a wide range of engineering roles available. All of them will require you to undergo basic training in things like handling weapons, and while some are more likely to put you at the front line than others they all have the potential to take you into combat. Examples include:

  • Weapon engineer (Navy): responsible for ensuring that on-board weapons, sensors and other systems are working properly. Involves lots of work with electronics and computers. Available through both graduate and non-graduate entry.
  • Infrastructure engineer (Army): building large-scale infrastructure such as runways and supply lines for water or electricity. This is a common role for TA members who do similar work in their day job, and usually requires you to have relevant qualifications already..
  • Aircraft Technicians (Mechanical) (Air Force): looking after the mechanics of aircraft and helicopters, including hydraulics, engines, gearboxes and fuel systems. Leads to an NVQ Level 3 and Advanced Apprenticeship.

Civilian roles

If you’re interested in defence engineering but you don’t fancy getting shot at, there are also civilian roles available supporting the UK armed forces. These are mostly based in the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG), rather than in the services themselves.

The DESG is part of the Ministry of Defence, and is made up of engineers and scientists developing new technology for the armed forces. They are generally looking for graduates, but do not expect any work experience and aim to get new employees to Chartered status within four years.

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