How to Become a Weapons Engineer in the US

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When a country goes to war, the quality of its weaponry can mean the difference between triumph and a bloody defeat. Weapons engineers are the professionals tasked with designing, developing and testing a country’s military hardware and weapon systems. Through their effort, many developed nations can boast state-of-the-art missile guidance systems, submarines, armored fighting vehicles and unmanned combat air vehicles.

If you are fascinated by the sophistication of today’s modern weaponry and possess great technical skills, this is a career choice you should consider.

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1. Take time to learn about the profession

What do weapons engineers do?

Primary duties include:

  • Designing new weapons and systems, as well as identifying ways existing ones can be improved
  • Monitoring the production of military hardware in factories and helping to resolve production challenges
  • Testing newly-manufactured armaments to ensure they are functioning properly
  • Training and supervising weapons engineering technicians who are responsible for maintaining and repairing hardware
  • Researching to gather information on various topics in the field, such as how to make the production of weaponry cost-effective.

The work environment

Weapons engineers work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. They usually spend their time in military workshops or research and development labs, where they use computers and other systems to design weapons. During the manufacturing process, it is common to find them on production floors.

The work can be risky. When testing the effectiveness of an explosive, for example, a minor technical error could result in accidents. So you should brace yourself for such risks.

Salary expectations

The average annual salary for weapons engineers is $97,000.

2. Obtain the relevant degree/qualifications

At the undergraduate level, there are no colleges or universities offering a degree with a major in the field. However, if you are patient enough, the United States Naval Academy will start offering a degree in weapons and systems engineering in 2017.

At present, you can enter the field with a bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields:

3. Develop your skillset through courses

After graduating, you can pursue additional courses in defense and security, which are offered by various colleges and military academies. This will help you prove to potential employers that you are indeed interested in developing and managing weapons and weapon systems.

In order to work for the government, you must meet the following additional requirements:

  • Be physically fit
  • Be an American citizen
  • Have a clean background

To do this role, you will need to:

  • Have exceptional technical and practical skills
  • Possess a sound understanding of engineering concepts
  • Be a person of impeccable character
  • Have good team work and communication skills
  • Possess the ability to think critically
  • Have strong analytical skills
  • Approach technical tasks methodically
  • Have good mathematical problem-solving skills
  • Have good computer skills

4. Improve your credibility

After working for at least four years, you should obtain the Professional Engineer License from your state’s engineering board to improve your credibility.

At the postgraduate level, there are a number of courses which you can pursue to enhance your chances of securing a promotion. Examples of these courses include:

  • Master’s degree in combating weapons of mass destruction – offered by the Air Force Institute of Technology
  • Master’s degree in security studies – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Master’s degree in Armament Engineering– Steven’s Institute of Technology

Apart from earning an advanced degree, you should focus on gaining vast work experience and using your expertise to design and develop cutting-edge weapons that are highly effective. Your competence can help you secure a promotion.

5. Explore further job opportunities

The main employers of weapons engineers include:

  • The Department of Defense
  • The military
  • Private defense contractors
  • Engineering firms

In time, you can be hired as a project manager – a position that will enable you to oversee weapon development projects. With an advanced degree, you could be hired by military academies to teach the next generation of weapons engineers. If you fancy moving into the private-sector, you can do so by establishing your own defense contracting firm.

See also: How to Become a Navy SEAL

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t specifically provide projections for weapons engineers, it reports that emerging conflicts and threatening global events will increase the demand for military personnel. If you're an expert in the planning and designing of military hardware, expect the government to come looking for you as soon as you are qualified.