Full Time | Part Time | Officer

Air Combat Systems Officer

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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.




THORBERGSON: I’m Captain Tyler Thorbergson from Dawson Creek, British Columbia. I’m an Air Combat Systems Officer with 405 Squadron in Greenwood, Nova Scotia.

LAWSON: And I’m Captain Ben Lawson from Ottawa, Ontario -- I’m an Air Combat Systems Officer based at 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron, in my home town.

THORBERGSON: Air Combat Systems Officers, or ACSOs, serve in a leadership role on Canadian military aircraft all over the world. We have tactical responsibility for every mission – directing our pilots where to fly and operating communications, sonar, radar and other digital and weapons systems on missions that range from anti-submarine warfare to drug interdiction and anti-piracy operations.

LAWSON: We also serve as the tactical leaders and communications coordinators for search and rescue missions.

The Air Combat Systems Officer role is a wide range of things. The pilot’s main job is to fly the aircraft; the ACSO – as a suite manager, as a weapons suite manager, as a communications suite manager will actually have the tactical control of the aircraft.

THORBERGSON: For my aircraft, I work on the CP-140 Aurora, there’s actually 4 ACSOs on board. So our job can be from listening to sonobuoys to directing the aircraft to conducting communications.

LAWSON: On board a Sea King helicopter, much of the same thing. Kind of looking, hunting for submarines and anticipating the submarine’s next move, planning where you think it’s going to be and developing your tactics.

THORBERGSON: What would the submarine be doing; how can I outsmart him. It definitely is a chess match. It’s always better to be on the winning end of that, that’s for sure.

LAWSON: At 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron where I work, we research the way that enemy aircraft fly, then we’ll try to replicate their manoeuvers, and the weapons they employ when we fly training missions against our CF-18s.

The coolest part of this job is pulling G’s and going fast, man… flying in a fighter jet, I’m going to say is awesome!

And there are ACSOs on the C-130 Hercules aircraft that fly long-range search-and-rescue missions and provide transport for our soldiers stationed from Kandahar to the North Pole.

On every mission, you’re managing the information flow into and out of your aircraft. Every day – every hour – brings a different challenge -- and best of all, you’re flying.

LAWSON: It’s an exciting time to be an ACSO right now as we expand our role to include a lot more overland operations and using sophisticated electronic warfare tools to help train our fighter pilots.

THORBERGSON: Over water we can do department of fisheries and ocean patrols, sovereignty patrols up north is becoming more and more important. We can do search and rescue which is another secondary role that we are always playing.

ACSOs also fly the Forces’ new Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. In Afghanistan, these UAVs are being used to keep tabs on the enemy and help keep our soldiers safe. In addition to the Heron, there’s an incredible array of new and updated airframes coming on line, like our new Cyclone maritime helicopters.

THORBERGSON: Whether you joined through the Regular Officer Training Plan or as a Direct Entry Officer, once you complete your basic officer qualification, your first introduction to the ACSO trade will be in Winnipeg. You’ll spend 8 to 10 months in the classroom, in the simulator, and in the air, flying in the CT-142 - a specialized Dash-8 aircraft – the most modern and sophisticated Air Navigation trainer in the world.

You’ll leave Winnipeg as a Lieutenant, then be posted to your first operational squadron, assigned to either the Hercules, the Aurora, or the maritime helicopter. Your next year will be spent training on the specific aircraft and mastering the specialized on-board systems you’ll be working with at the squadron.

Every airframe demands a different role from the ACSO. If you’re assigned to maritime helicopters, you’ll work shoulder-to-shoulder with the two pilots and a sensor operator. You’ll be the officer responsible for all tactical decisions affecting your mission.

My role on the Aurora is kind of along the same lines. I do a navigator / communicator job or what’s called a NAVCOM. You’re planning where the aircraft is going to fly to and you’re also conducting the communications for the aircraft – if you’re talking to a surface fleet of ships or to a shore based station.

LAWSON: On a Herc, the ACSO is right up on the flight deck – providing tactical navigation for a wide range of long-range missions ranging from Search and Rescue to supplying our soldiers on deployments around the world.

THORBERGSON: No matter which airframe you fly on, the Air Combat Systems Officer shares equal status on the aircraft with the pilots. In fact, being an ACSO is one of the fastest routes to advancement in the Air Force, with promotion to Captain only two years after getting your wings.

THORBERGSON: The experiences that I’ve had, flying in hectic situations all over the world has been so much fun that it’s definitely become part of who I am. My career has been a lot of fun ever since day 1.

LAWSON: You get to be in charge of a lot of high-tech equipment, you get to do a job that is very important to both the security of your country and the security of your friends and family as a whole, and that’s something that I think, in my opinion, just can’t be beaten. The stories that you gain from the jobs you do, to tell back home to your friends while they stare at you wide-eyed and just want to hear more, it’s a really good feeling. It’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

And you know, a sense of accomplishment, coming this far and being actually able to do a job like this that I dreamed of from the time I was a kid – it’s a great feeling and it’s a lot of fun.




Basic Military Officer Qualification

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.

Available professional training

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.

Available specialty training

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

Available advanced training

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

Direct entry options

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.

Paid education options

Regular Officer Training Plan

Because this position requires a university degree, the CAF will pay successful recruits to complete a bachelor degree program at a Canadian university. They receive full-time salary including medical and dental care, as well as vacation time with full pay in exchange for working with 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 some instances, the CAF is able to pay for Officer Cadets to attend other Canadian universities in a relevant degree program. Officer Cadets who attend other Canadian universities typically attend university during the regular academic year and participate in additional military training during the summer months. If you choose to apply to this program, you must apply both to the CAF and the Canadian university of your choice.

Learn more about our Paid Education programs here.

Serve with the Reserve Force

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.

Reserve Force training

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.

Reserve Working Environment

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 85 percent of Regular Force rates of pay and receive a reasonable benefits package.