Weapon Systems Operator
You’ll use specialist skills like radar surveillance and submarine tracking as one of the aircrew, as well as helping transport passengers and freight on operations.
Pay after training
17.5 - 32
Similar civilian jobs
- Telecommunications specialist
- Radar technologist
- Crewman on a civilian helicopter
- Air cargo specialist
Citizen of the UK or the Republic of Ireland, or a Commonwealth citizen since birth.
male or female
Qualifications you need
5 GCSE/SCEs at Grade C/2 minimum or equivalent, including English language and a grade B/1 in maths.
Qualifications you can gain
A-levels, degree or Masters degree
Whether or not you were born in the United Kingdom, you should have resided there for the five years immediately preceding your application.
The role of a Weapon Systems Operator (WSOp) is one of the most demanding in the Royal Air Force. It is an exciting job, with a large degree of responsibility, and Non-Commissioned Aircrew (NCA) perform the role of a valued aircrew member in a professional team.
Having completed the Non-Commissioned Aircrew Initial Training Course, all potential WSOps begin with a Generic Phase of training on 55(R) Squadron, learning skills such as airmanship, meteorology, navigation and principles of flight. These will be skills that are relevant to all the different specialisations. On completion of the Generic Phase, the students will then be streamed into their respective branch.
The streaming decision will be made by the RAF, but will be based on an individual’s choice, their performance during the selection process at the Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre (OASC) and their skills in particular areas. Ultimately it is determined by the requirements of the Service.
I do this job
Weapon Systems Operator
‘As an Electronic Warfare specialist, I fly with the same crew of 12 both in the UK and in the Gulf. In the UK, we go out over the sea and look for submarines or conduct Search and Rescue operations. But in the Gulf, we fly over land – and use our surveillance systems to provide support to the ground troops.’
‘If I’m flying, I might come in a couple of hours before take-off for a briefing. Each mission can last several hours – so, once we’re flying, we take it in turns to do different tasks, such as photographing submarines, watching the screens, and even cooking!’
‘When we’re not on missions, it’s vital that we keep on developing our skills. Sometimes we do classroom-based learning and, at other times, we go on exercise abroad. In the past few years, I’ve been to Nevada, the Caribbean and the Azores.’
‘Like most non-commissioned aircrew, I’m based at RAF Kinloss near Inverness. Some people think it’s in the middle of nowhere, but we’re right on the beach and the mountains are only a 20-minute drive away. I love it.’
Weapon Systems Operator
‘Everyone in the crew can make a difference – whether they’re new or they’re the most experienced member of the team.’
‘My role can involve anything from tracking a submarine using sonobuoys, to taking photographs from an open window of the aircraft at 200 feet, or you could ACT as a lookout on a Search and Rescue mission.
‘It’s a great feeling when you detect a target. You’ve had extensive training – from basic military instruction to learning about submarines, sonobuoys and oceanography – all preparing you for the job. You feel like everything comes together.’
‘The best thing about my job is that I can be told I’m flying off to Puerto Rico or Brunei the next day. I’ve been out of the country for three months this year on different trips.’
‘I love the crew atmosphere and the humour. There are 12 people on my team, with a real mix of experience. Crews tend to stay together for a long time so you all get to know each other’s personalities and how best to work as a team.’
Weapon Systems Operator
‘It’s exciting. It’s challenging. What more can you ask from a job than that?’
Even a snapshot of the job would make a large book. The Chinook is an extremely versatile helicopter, designed for multi-tasking in a diversity of roles and environments – and crewmen have to be as flexible as the aircraft.
As a crewman, you’re responsible for all aspects of aircraft loading, both internal and external. With the Chinook triple-hook system and capacity to carry 40 fully equipped troops, the crewman HAS to be able to fulfil a number of roles – not only operating the aircraft’s communications, self-defence and weapon systems, but also planning missions and servicing the aircraft when it’s operating “in the field”.
I enjoy sub-aqua diving in my spare time. That’s one distinct advantage of being in the RAF – if you’ve got a hobby or an interest, you’ll usually find there’s a club for it. I’ve operated as far afield as the Falkland Islands, Canada and Bosnia as well as in the UK – and enjoyed every minute of it!
Socially, an RAF unit is a very close-knit community and there’s never a dull moment. Even though I now live off base in my own place, I still attend Squadron functions, Mess balls and dining-in nights.
Your career will start with a 10 week Basic Recruit Training Course (BRTC) at RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire. The course is designed to help you adjust to a military environment
As well as fitness and military training, you’ll also learn about life in the RAF. You’ll then go to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire for a 10-week leadership package; this course is physically demanding and fitness is given a high priority throughout.
This is followed by a 13-week course to understand aircraft systems and basic survival skills; you’ll then be streamed as a Fixed Wing or Rotary Wing Crewman (Linguists are pre-streamed on joining the RAF).
WSOp Electronic Warfare
You will be trained to operate aircraft radar systems to locate, identify and track surface and sub-surface contacts as well as compiling the air picture for ground commanders.
You will also learn about electronic surveillance and by the end of your training you will be able to identify radars from other aircraft, ships and submarines from around the world.
Finally, you will be taught to be an effective communicator on aircraft radios so that you are able to pass information accurately and in a timely manner to other forces.
You will be taught how to load and restrain cargo in such a way that the aircraft remains stable throughout all stages of flight. You could be streamed to be a rotary crewman and find yourself on operations transporting cargo and troops around the front line. As a fixed wing crewman, you could find yourself transporting passengers and freight over long distances and also in operational areas.
Your First Tour
For your first tour you’ll be posted to a flying station in the UK. During this tour you’ll be in an operational and training role, involving frequent overseas detachments. There will be other more experienced Weapon Systems Operators to help develop your skills and knowledge.
As your career progresses, we’ll continue to train you in new skills. There are opportunities to undertake management and leadership training and you can also study for A-levels or a degree as your career develops.
You’ll hold the rank of acting sergeant during your professional training.
Once you start your front-line job, and you’re assessed as being capable of operating independently, you’ll be promoted to substantive sergeant.
Further promotion to the rank of flight sergeant and beyond is by competitive selection.
Normally you’ll be expected to serve for a minimum of 12 years.
The skills and experience you gain throughout your career as a Weapon Systems Operator could equip you for a number of civilian jobs, including: crewman on a civilian helicopter; air cargo specialist; translator or interpreter.
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