In command, or all at sea?

Prospective Navy officers must be ready to take responsibility for people and equipment early in their careers
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The Independent Online

All three of the armed services - the Royal Navy, Air Force and Army - recruit graduates as officers, but far more important than academic aptitude is the potential for leadership. Sophisticated communication skills are seen as vital in today's Navy and while science and engineering graduates are particularly welcome in weapons, transport and logistics, a graduate's degree subject is largely irrelevant in operational and combat positions.

While all graduates must pass initial medical, eyesight and colour blindness tests, the selection process is also designed to weed out those for whom service life would not be appropriate. A common problem in graduate interviews, say Royal Navy recruiters, are a lack of up-to-date current affairs knowledge and ignorance of life in the services. While any graduate should be able to read up on the former, and be able to talk intelligently about NATO, for example, those coming from a non-services background can find themselves at a disadvantage.

The number of graduate vacancies varies from year to year and it's worth checking with the nearest Services University Liaison Officer (ULO) for details of local cadetships or sponsorship opportunities. Initial 11-month training for successful naval officer recruits is at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, where physical training and military exercises are combined with current affairs, Royal Navy organisation, defence issues and management skills.

Although operations are an attractive career choice for many graduates, would-be officers can also join the backroom administrative and support team - known in the Royal Navy as "supply officers" - or the technical side.

Once the initial training has finished, naval officers are posted to a ship for fleet training where they receive the specialist command training necessary for a first command. Early on in a naval career, an officer's job is as much about taking responsibility for highly complex pieces of equipment as about looking after a team of people.

Under normal circumstances, a career officer will achieve command of their own unit by the age of 40, but all officers receive career-long training and development. After a few years, high-flyers from the three different branches of the services are selected to attend command and staff training courses at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, in preparation for senior Army, Navy or Air Force appointments.

Getting a commission in any branch of the Royal Navy is an achievement, but it takes a certain kind of person to lead men who are among the world's fighting elite. The selection process for a post as Royal Marines officer is particularly demanding and includes a three-day course at the Commando Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, covering physical ability, mental aptitude, reasons for joining and leadership potential.

To qualify for a green beret, you will have to complete the toughest training course in the British Armed Forces; which at 13 months requires every ounce of mental and physical strength at your disposal. Once accepted, the chief specialisms inside the Marines are landing craft officer, signals officer, special boat service officer, mountain leader or helicopter/Harrier pilot, while the five main employment areas are in heavy weapons, intelligence, physical training, weapons training and staff duties.

Once they have been through training, Royal Marines officers work together with Royal Navy specialists to carry out vital work in ships, submarines, aircraft, naval air stations and shore establishments. The starting salary for a graduate officer cadet in the Royal Navy is close to £20,000 and on commission, rises to more than £23,000. Salaries at age 40 can range from £40,000 to £60,000. While most posts are open to both sexes, women are not recruited into direct combat roles in the UK and do not currently serve in the Royal Marines.

The glamorous side of a career as a naval officer is undoubtedly on the operations side. Operational officers; known in the Navy as "warfare officers," direct and operate technically advanced fighting systems at sea and they command personnel in the front line of battle. Yet a career as warfare officer is just one of the openings for graduates with five GCSE passes or their equivalent and 140 UCAS points under their belt.

Other roles inside the Royal Navy include engineer officer, logistics officer, aircrew officer, submarine warfare officer, medical, nursing or dental officer, information systems officer, training management officer or even chaplain.