What is the armed forces?
The armed forces in the UK are made up of the Army, the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy, which includes the Royal Marines who are the Navy’s force on land.
The armed forces exist to protect the country and its interests. This means supporting our neighbours and friends in other countries as well as at home. But it is not just about being on the frontline. Jobs in the armed forces are also about helping people affected by conflict or natural disasters, and lots of different people pull together to make sure everything works, from medics and chefs to photographers and engineers.
What armed forces jobs can I do?
There are hundreds of different army jobs and careers to choose from, with chances to rise up the ranks and to travel the world.
You can join the Army as a soldier and specialise in different areas including:
- Infantry: People who fight on foot.
- Signaller: Those who handle communications.
- Armoured unit: Working tanks and other weapons.
- Paratrooper: Infantry who parachute into position.
Navy jobs and RAF careers
If you join the Navy, you can specialise working as part of the crew on submarines, helicopters or ships.
In the RAF, you can work as part of a flight crew including pilot, weapons system operator, or air traffic controller. Alternatively, you can work as part of the RAF's infantry-style regiment.
Jobs available across the forces
- Technical support: Engineers and technicians support land, sea and flight crews to keep their machines running.
- Defence and protection: You can also protect and defend your unit as a gunner, security officer or even a fire fighter.
- Communications and intelligence: Keep troops safe and shape plans on the battlefield by gathering information from satellite images, intercepted messages and networks on the ground.
- Logistics: Like drivers, chefs and suppliers make sure that everyone has the right kit and equipment at the right time, from ammunition to food and water. If you're interested in transport jobs, check out our logistics career zone.
- Medical support: Includes doctors, nurses, dentists and emergency medics who support troops in the field and at their bases. Also see our medicine and healthcare career zone.
- Personnel: Support includes jobs handling pay as well as fitness training, counselling and even musicians. Take a look at our human resources career zone as well.
You must be a UK or Commonwealth citizen to apply and some frontline jobs, like the Army’s infantry or the role of Royal Marines commando, are not available to women. There are minimum height and fitness requirements too.
Is a career in the armed forces for me?
If you are looking for an army career with lots of challenges and surprises, the Army, Navy or RAF could be for you.
You will need to be disciplined, follow instructions, be a team player and stay calm under pressure.
You could be sent abroad for months at a time so you should be flexible and happy to travel.
Frontline jobs, such as in the Army’s infantry, can put you in stressful and sometimes dangerous positions, where you might have to engage in combat or defend yourself, so you should do your research and think very hard about which job is right for you.
You’ll also need to make sure you want to be in it for the long haul. You must sign up for at least four years' service and give one year's notice if you want to leave – plus you can only give notice after three years of service.
Once you leave, you are added to the reserve list and can be called up to serve for up to 16 days per year. The length of time you remain on the list depends how long you have served for, and when you signed up.
How can I start a career in the armed forces?
Whatever your background or education, the chances are you'll be able to find a job in the armed forces, as most training is done on the job. There are a few requirements though:
You’ll need to get jogging, as you have to pass a fitness and routine medical test to join. If you have any health issues such as poor eyesight or asthma you should speak to your GP and also check with your recruiter if it rules out any jobs. You might boost your chances by joining a gym or sports team.
The earliest you can join up is at 16, but to train directly as an officer you must be 18 or over. If you are thinking about signing up before you turn 18 you will need to get permission from your parent or guardian.
You don’t need GCSEs to join the Army as a soldier, the marines on general duties, or some jobs in the Navy and air force, such as gunners and engineering technicians. Because you are trained on the job there are still chances to move up the ranks too.
However, having 5 GCSES at grade 4 or above, including English and maths, will give you lots more options, like becoming a medical cadet in the Navy or moving up from soldier to officer if you are already in the Army.
All specialist or technical army jobs will ask for different grades but here are some examples:
- Officers: To train as an officer in the Army you will need 7 GCSEs at 9-4 and two A-levels at grades A-E.
- Pilots: To be an RAF pilot you’ll need 5 GCSEs including a grade 5 in maths and 2 A-levels at A-C.
The British Army also has one of the biggest apprenticeship schemes in the UK. Around 95% of new recruits start with an apprenticeship and gain extra qualifications by studying engineering, IT and animal care.
If you have a degree you will often go straight into the forces at a higher rank.
A criminal conviction won’t necessarily stop you joining the armed forces, but you have to be up front about it with recruiters when you join.
The Ministry of Defence sponsors a program called the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), which allows you to sample life as an army, sea, air or combined cadet. As a cadet you'll get a taste of military life part, taking part in activities at home and abroad and learning about life in the forces. The CCF also offers the chance for you to gain skills and qualifications, from leadership to power boating.
What armed forces qualifications are available?
There is lots of on-the-job training for almost any role, which can lead to professional qualifications, degrees and postgraduate degrees.
To give you a taste:
- If you join the RAF with 2 GCSES you can train as a medic with the opportunity to become a state registered paramedic.
- Joining the RAF as a technician can lead to an advanced apprenticeship in aeronautical engineering.
- If you apply to the Army as an officer you could also get a bursary towards your degree.
If you train as an RAF pilot you can go on to become a commercial pilot.
Did you know these armed forces facts?
Double Olympic gold medal winner Dame Kelly Holmes served in the Army for nine years, which helped her to become a super-fast and disciplined athlete!