Armed forces officer: job description

Last updated: 19 Jul 2023, 08:59

Armed forces officers defend their country and its interests overseas.

Army officers sitting on benches in the back of a truck.

Armed forces officer : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Armed forces officers are the managers of the military world. They lead others in defending their country and supporting international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts around the globe.

In the UK, officers are employed by the Ministry of Defence and serve in the Army, Royal Air Force (RAF) or Royal Navy. Responsibilities vary widely across the various roles within each branch.

Typical duties include:

  • planning manoeuvres, assigning duties and communicating effectively with other staff.
  • commanding, training and leading others.
  • monitoring the welfare and progress of new recruits.
  • operating and maintaining warfare systems, equipment and vehicles.
  • taking on specialist duties and skills such as engineering, air traffic control, training and administration.
  • providing specialist skills, such as medical care, engineering expertise or musical ability.
  • producing briefings, reports and presentations.
  • organising the distribution of equipment, resources and manpower.

Armed forces officers may work irregular hours and may have to spend long periods of time away from – and having infrequent contact with – their families. Travel is a major part of the role: officers can be posted at locations around the globe and can experience a wide range of countries and cultures.

The choice to work within the armed forces is as much a lifestyle choice as a career move. It is highly demanding, requiring dedication and a consistently high level of mental and physical fitness. Officers face dangerous and sometimes life-threatening situations under immense pressure because they shoulder heavy responsibility not just for their own lives but those of their subordinates as well.

Graduate salaries

According to the Army , salaries for officer cadets at Sandhurst are around £28,000. Your salary will increase as you progress through the ranks; for example, as a 2nd lieutenant your salary will be around £34,000.

The Navy reports that officers training at Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth earn around £28,000 initially and £32,000 on completion of their training. As with the Army, your salary will increase as you rise through the ranks.

Salaries for those undertaking the RAF’s initial officer training at RAF Cranwell are around £28,000. On completion of training, your salary will rise to around £34,000.

Armed forces officers have access to subsidised housing along with other benefits such as free financial advice, training and education, and generous holiday allowances.

Typical employers of armed forces officers

  • British Army.
  • Royal Air Force.
  • Royal Navy.

All forces work in the service of the government and in association with global bodies such as the United Nations for peacekeeping and humanitarian causes.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into becoming an armed forces officer for both graduates and school leavers. School leavers need 72 UCAS points across three subjects at A level (or equivalent). You don’t need a degree to become an officer.

If you’re a graduate, you can enrol as an officer with a degree in any subject. Science, engineering and technology graduates are often particularly welcome because of the specialist knowledge they can bring to technological roles throughout the forces. However, recruiters tend to place more importance on your leadership capabilities and suitability to a life in service than on your degree subject.

Pre-entry experience and postgraduate qualifications can be beneficial but aren't essential. Time spent in school or university cadet corps can help your application but doesn't guarantee you a place.

  • Head to our article on the Army internship to learn about this work experience option offered by the UK’s armed forces.

Competition for places can be fierce. You'll need to take part in several days of interviews and tests designed to assess you both physically and mentally. You will be tested on your ability to think calmly and logically under pressure, and must have strong vision and colour perception. You'll also have a medical assessment as part of the recruitment process.

Cadets train for a long time at their barracks before they become officers. For example, training for the army can last 40 weeks.

Key skills for armed forces officers

  • The ability to work calmly in high-pressure situations.
  • The ability to communicate concisely and clearly to subordinates and superiors alike, both orally and in written work.
  • Excellent leadership and teamwork skills.
  • A high level of physical fitness.
  • Determination and self-motivation
  • A demonstrable commitment to the forces.
  • Self-discipline.

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