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Air Force

Air Combat Systems Officer

OFFICER | Full Time, Part Time

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Air Combat Systems Officers plan, coordinate and direct the missions of aircraft and crew. They manage the operation of precision tactical navigation systems, sophisticated sensors, communication systems, electronic warfare equipment and weapon delivery systems.

Air Combat Systems Officers often direct and coordinate the tactical activities of other units. They lead a variety of missions, including:

  • Search and Rescue
  • Anti-Submarine Operations
  • Maritime Surface Surveillance and Targeting
  • Sovereignty and Fisheries Patrols
  • Counter-Narcotics Operations
  • Air-to-Air Refueling
  • Humanitarian Relief
  • Combined Operations with Foreign Militaries
  • Electronic Warfare Training and Support
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations

Aircrew Selection Centre – the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) requires that all Pilots, Aerospace Controllers and Air Combat Systems Officers attend and successfully complete the Aircrew Selection. The selection centre is located in Trenton, Ontario where candidates are tested over a 2-day period with computer-based scenarios designed to validate those skills and aptitudes required by the RCAF. Success at Aircrew Selection is a necessary step in order to continue to be processed for these three occupations. Watch this video to learn more.

Work environment

Air Combat Systems Officers work in a variety of roles at operational flying units across Canada and as instructors. On deployed operations, they work from airfields around the world. They may also support the Royal Canadian Navy and flying from ships at sea. Experienced Air Combat Systems Officers assist in the formulation of strategic and operational policies and plans, determine air requirements and set standards. They may also work in an international headquarters, on multinational staff or mission.

Career Overview




CAPTAIN SIMON WILSON: I’m Captain Simon Wilson from Calgary, Alberta. I’m an Air Combat Systems Officer at 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron in Shearwater, Nova Scotia.

Air Combat Systems Officers, or ACSOs, are responsible for tactical decisions onboard aircraft and directing pilots where to fly. They operate on world-class, state-of-the-art tactical platforms like the Cyclone maritime helicopter and the CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, as well as fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft.

WILSON: On a maritime helicopter, we fly with two pilots, an ACSO, and an AES Op. I’ll direct the tactical mission and the sensor operator will devise and correlate tracks and be able to stitch together the maritime picture. And the CP-140 Aurora is an extremely capable aircraft. They have sophisticated sensors and they can sanitize a much broader area of water in a much shorter period of time.

ACSOs operate tactical navigation systems, hi-tech sensors, communications systems, electronic warfare equipment and weapon delivery systems. They lead and coordinate missions related to sovereignty patrols, anti-submarine warfare, electronic warfare, and search and rescue. These highly trained officers are experts in joint operations and multi-mission taskings that involve the Army and Navy in international settings.

WILSON: Now we have one of the most capable and most advanced maritime helicopters in the world. It’s almost: the 4 of us on a helicopter versus the sub commander with his entire crew of, say, 50+. And that’s exciting, that it’s us vs them, and you really are in their head, and you want to think what they’ll be doing while considering all the other factors – your ships around you, what other helicopters do you have, what assets, who’s closest, how long will they be, who has weapons, who doesn’t, and the capabilities of all the different aircraft.

After completing their professional training, Air Combat Systems Officers are posted to an operational squadron and assigned to one of four areas: the Aurora; the Cyclone maritime helicopter; an air mobility squadron; or a search and rescue squadron. At this stage, ACSOs learn to master the specialized systems onboard the aircraft they’ll be working on. Officers could be assigned to work on missions in Northern Canada; overseas, in joint operations with other nations; or go to sea as part of the air detachment on a Royal Canadian Navy ship for several months on maritime operations.

WILSON: They say: “Train hard, fight easy”. And that’s we do. But when we get to go “fight easy”, whether it’s fighting or just accomplishing an operational mission, that is incredibly rewarding.

WILSON: I wouldn’t do anything else in the Air Force. I can’t see myself filling another role. I truly found that this is where I belong. I’m surrounded by the best squadron mates, the best crew members that you can possibly have – they always challenge you to be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.




Related Civilian Occupations


After enrolment, you start basic officer training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, for 12 weeks. Topics covered include general military knowledge, the principles of leadership, regulations and customs of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), basic weapons handling, and first aid. Opportunities will also be provided to apply such newly acquired military skills in training exercises involving force protection, field training, navigation and leadership. A rigorous physical fitness program is also a vital part of basic training. Basic officer training is provided in English or French and successful completion is a prerequisite for further training.

Following basic officer training, official second language training may be offered to you. Training could take from two to nine months to complete depending on your ability in your second language.

Learn more about Basic Training here.

Air Combat Systems Officers attend the Canadian Forces School of Survival and Aeromedical Training in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In order to prepare you for the roles and responsibilities of the Air Combat Systems Officer, you must successfully complete three courses which are designed to introduce you to the unique challenges of working as a member of an aircrew. The courses are:

  • Aeromedical Training, which details the physiological effects of high altitude operations, and the operation of oxygen supply systems used on military aircraft
  • Basic Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course
  • Air Operations Sea Survival, which takes place at the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue in Comox, British Columbia.

Further training on the specific duties of the Air Combat Systems Officer takes place at the Canadian Forces Flying Training School in Winnipeg. You will receive training in meteorology, basic and advanced navigation, guidance and control systems, electronics, communications, tactical employment of aircraft, and weapons systems. This training takes place in the classroom, in the simulator, and in aircraft.

Air Combat Systems Officers, after successful completion of Professional Training, proceed to an Operation Training Unit to develop specialized skills through formal courses and on-the-job training, in order to qualify as crew members on specific aircraft types, including:

  • Long Range Patrol
  • Maritime Helicopter
  • Search and Rescue
  • Electronic Warfare
  • Air-to-Air Refueling
  • Uninhabited Air Vehicle
  • Instructional Techniques

As they progress in their career, Air Combat Systems Officers who demonstrate the required ability and potential will be offered advanced and graduate training.

Entry plans

If you already have a university degree, the CAF will decide if your academic program matches the criteria for this job and may place you directly into the required on-the-job training program following basic training. Basic training and military officer qualification training are required before being assigned.

Regular Officer Training Plan

Due to the requirement for CAF officer to obtain a university degree, the CAF will pay successful recruits to complete a bachelor degree program in the Royal Military College System. Recruits will receive full-time salary including medical and dental care, as well as vacation time with full pay in exchange for working in the CAF for a period of time. Typically, candidates enter the Canadian Military College System as an Officer Cadet where they study subjects relevant to both their military and academic career. In rare instances, based on the needs of the CAF, candidates may be approved attend another Canadian University. A determination will be made on a case by case basis. If you are applying for this program, you must apply to the CAF and it is recommended to apply to other Canadian universities of your choice should you not be accepted for ROTP.

Learn more about our Paid Education programs here.

Part time options

This position is available for part-time employment through the Reserve Force. Reservists generally work part-time for a Reserve unit in their community. They are not posted or required to do a military move. However, they can volunteer to move to another base. They may also volunteer for deployment on a military mission within or outside Canada.

Reservists train with their home unit to ensure that they meet the required professional standards of the job. If additional training is required in order to acquire specialized skills, arrangements will be made by the home unit.

It is also possible to set up an “Individual Learning Plan” to take courses leading to a university degree related to this job, and upon successful completion, be reimbursed for up to 50 percent of tuition and other mandatory costs. Education fees for successfully completed courses are reimbursed as long as the student was a Reservist during the entire duration of the course.

Typically, Reservists work or train with their home unit for at least four evenings and one weekend per month, from September to May of each year. They are paid 92.8% of Regular Force rates of pay and receive a reasonable benefits package.