Naval Combat Systems Engineering Officer is one of the military occupations within the Canadian Forces. It is considered a “hard sea” trade, whose primary focus, especially early on in one’s career, is supporting operations aboard a sea going unit. It is a challenging career, which I find very fulfilling.
Because the name is quite a mouthful, the officers who are in this trade are usually referred to as a CSE (See-ce or as in an acronym) or CSEO (as in an acronym). It is one of the trades that is the most "distressed" in the Canadian Forces, with a trained effective strength approximately three quarters of optimal manning levels. So those who we do have are kept busy, and they aren't very stingy with the promotions.
Aboard a ship, it is one of these officers who is the head of the Combat Systems Engineering Department. In this role, he or she is responsible to the ship’s Commanding Officer for maintaining the technical capability of about half of the ship’s equipment, including, but not limited to, the following:
The CSE Head of Department is typically a Lieutenant(Navy), with the exception of aboard one of the three Iroquois Class Destroyers, where the billet is for a Lieutenant-Commander. It is not unheard of for a senior Lieutenant to get posted in as the HOD on one of the Destroyers, and they typically get promoted soon thereafter. As well, it is rather common for a CSE HOD on one of the other ships to receive their promotion near the end of their tour, and the vast majority of CSEs (At least now a days) get promoted shortly after their HOD tour.
As a HOD, the CSE will be managing a number of sailors, depending upon the class of ship. Aboard a Halifax Class Frigate, the typical CSE department is around 30 – 35 people, whereas aboard one of the Protecteur class tankers will only have around 15 people. Of course, manning levels vary depending upon what the ship is doing, swelling when going upon an operation, and shrinking when alongside for extended periods of time. The rest of this writeup is assuming the situation is aboard a Halifax Class Frigate, as they are the most common, as well as being the only class of ship that I’ve ever sailed with.
The CSEO will have a CSE Chief to assist him in managing the department, typically a Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class. And reporting to him will be two section Petty Officers, one Petty Officer 1st Class from each of the two “sides” of the department, the Naval Weapons Technicians, and the Naval Electronics Technicians. The NETs are further subdivided into three separate sections, one for each of the military occupations in the NET branch, Sonar, Radar, and Comms. The PO1 NET can be from any of the NET branches, and the CSE Chief can be either a NET or an NWT, although typically each ship’s CSE Chief is considered a NET or NWT billet.
As well, the CSEO will have another officer to assist him, aptly named the Assistant Combat Systems Engineering Officer (A/CSEO). The AHOD will usually take on divisional responsibilities for all of the junior members of the department, being responsible for the well being and career progression of all of the departments Ordinary through Master Seamen, as well as general administrative duties such as the signing of leave passes. And like almost all Naval Officers, the CSE AHOD will typically be assigned a number of secondary duties, such as the Unit General Safety Officer.
Finally, there are generally one or two trainees posted to the ship. They are called the “Phase VI”, since that is the phase of the career training that these Sub-Lieutenants are at. More on the training later.
The CSEO doesn’t just manage the people on a day to day basis. He or she is the link between the Commanding Officer, and the CSE Department. So, when something breaks while at sea, it is the CSEO who has to go tell the captain. This entails explaining what went down, how it will affect the ship’s operational capability, how long it will take to fix (assuming that it is fixable), and what steps can be, or are being taken in order to mitigate this deficiency. Not to mention the fact that this may also mean waking up the captain in the middle of the night. Don’t worry; the old man’s used to it. Being woken up comes with the job. Geordi rarely had to wake up Picard, but then again, he could also fix everything by inverting its polarity.
As well, when at action stations or emergency stations, the CSEO is in charge of the Emergency Response Team (ERT), which is used to effect rapid repairs needed to maintain operational capability in the event of battle damage, or damage due to some accident. The types of responses that may be needed could be anything from sending someone out to reboot a processor, to re-routing power cables to bypass a damaged power panel, to sending someone into a space after a fire, in order to try and bring up a damaged weapon system. As well, the CSEO is in charge of the HAZMAT Control Team, dealing with any spills of hazardous materials, ranging from battery acid to rocket fuel.
And that’s just the job aboard a ship. Typically, a CSEO will spend on average 3.5 years of a career posted to a ship, one as a Phase VI, one as an AHOD, and a two year posting as a HOD that is usually cut short. During this time, they’ll also be expected to stand duty as the occasional Officer-of-the-Day, although not quite as often as a HOD.
That leaves a good 21.5 years spent ashore, for someone who is going for the sweet pension you can get after 25 years. Where do CSEs work? Well, just as all roads lead to Rome, all careers lead to Ottawa. But not really Ottawa specifically. Over half of all Naval Engineers, (Both CSEs and their Marine Systems Engineering counterparts) work in the Louis St-Laurent building, in Hull, Quebec, which is considered part of the National Capital Region.
There are two main tasks that CSEs work on. Sustaining the current fleet, and building the future fleet. Louis St-Laurent houses the organization of the Director General Maritime Equipment Program Management. The position of DGMEPM is a Commodore billet, and is the highest ranked Naval Engineering billet, open to either MSEs or CSEs. Any further progression to Rear Admiral and above would be dealing with issues not specific to Naval Engineering.
Below the DGMEPM are a great number of sub-organizations. There are places that manage the current configuration of each class of ship, and deal with any Engineering Changes. There are ship support organizations, which co-ordinate maintenance, with someone assigned to each type of equipment aboard a ship. These life cycle materiel managers take equipment from procurement, to maintenance, to eventual disposal.
Also within DGMEPM are projects devoted towards new equipment that is needed, anything from new uniforms, to mid-life refits and equipment upgrades for existing ships, to planning for the acquisition of new classes of ships.
On the two coasts, there are also a number of CSE positions. You could teach at the Canadian Forces Fleet School (Esquimalt), or at the Canadian Forces Naval Engineering School (Halifax). You can work at one of the Fleet Maintenance Facilities. There are positions at the Operational Engineering Support organizations. And a few tiny jobs scattered around, such as fleet Radiation Safety Officer.
As well, there are opportunities to do things that are not specific to the Navy. There are CSE billets at some of the recruiting centres, work on projects DND wide, such as in the Information Management group, chances to become United Nations Military Observers, and a few scattered overseas postings, such as working on the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile project in The Netherlands, or a posting at NORAD HQ in Colorado.
Some of these positions require advanced education. If you’re going to be the guy in charge of guided missiles, they expect you to know something about them. So, they’ll send you for some post-graduate education. Where you go exactly depends on which program you are taking. For the guided missiles Master, they’ll send you to the Royal Military College of Science, in Cranfield, United Kingdom. Other programs could see you attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the US Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterey, California, and of course, a lot of the post grad programs are at the Royal Military College, in Kingston, Ontario.
Since the CF is being nice and paying for your education, doing a post grad program will incur some obligatory service after the fact, during which you cannot quit without repayment of the cost of the education. As well, you’ll have to work for your post-grad sponsor for a number of years after, not being able to take another posting. But still, it’s a pretty sweet deal getting paid to do your Master’s.
The training to become a fully qualified CSE lasts about 3 and a half years. The first step, of course, is actually being offered the job. The process starts at your local Canadian Forces Recruiting Centre. The primary qualification is a degree. Most engineering degrees are acceptable, although Electrical and Computer Engineering is preferred. Some science degrees are also acceptable, including Computer Science. If you already have a degree, you’ll be sent to the Naval Officer Assessment Board, held two to three times a year in either Halifax or Esquimalt. If you do not have a degree, there is a different selection process, and you must either qualify for admission into the Royal Military College, or another civilian university, the costs of which can be subsidized by the CF. In addition to the degree, you must also be capable of passing a medical, a fitness test, and of gaining a security clearance.
As with everyone else, you start of with Basic Officer Training, which will last around 14 weeks. You may or may not take some 2nd Language Training. Francophones whose English is not very good will almost certainly undergo second language training, but anglophones will likely not, due to some recent policy changes that shift SLT later in the career, when it is actually needed for promotion. A full SLT course runs 32 weeks.
After SLT, you will be shipped out to Esquimalt, British Columbia, for the Naval Environmental Training Program for Officers. NETPO is designed to teach you the basics needed to serve aboard a ship safely, and primarily consists of fire and flood fighting, as well as some Naval History and knowledge of ceremonial procedures. It is rather important to know what you have to do when the Admiral is coming aboard your ship. As well, there is an at-sea phase of NETPO, which teaches all junior Naval Officers the basics of ship-handling, and navigation. You learn how to give conning orders, how to read a chart, what to do if someone falls overboard, and how to avoid hitting someone else’s ship. This is done aboard one of the smaller vessels owned by the navy. When I did it, it was aboard an old wooden boat, which dated back at least 50 years. Recently, they have started teaching this course aboard the newly acquired Orca class training vessels, which are steel hulled, and designed to more closely emulate an actual warship. Best of all, this phase gives you a chance to hop from island to island around Vancouver Island, spending each night in a new tiny port. Drinking. This course lasts around 9 weeks, with two weeks at sea.
The next step is the Naval Engineering Indoctrination course. This course is common to both MSEs and CSEs, and is taught at CFNES Halifax. It teaches the basics of Naval engineering, procedures, and the systems. Students are expected to learn the characteristics of a number of systems, on both sides of the house, including a rather complete diagram. This includes a minimum of 15 days of sea time aboard a major warship, usually a Halifax Class Frigate. When we did it, we got 9 weeks. At the end of it, they sit a board, where they are asked to draw and explain two randomly picked systems, one each from Combat and Marine Systems Engineering. Passing this board, along with completion of one year of commissioned service, is a prerequisite for promotion to Sub-Lieutenant.
The next step is the Naval Combat Systems Engineering Applications Course, generally called the Apps Course. Also taught at CFNES Halifax, this course teaches all the theory behind all the systems that we use. Starting at basics, such as analog electronics, and hydraulics, over 8 months it works its way through topics such as radar theory, digital signal processing, antenna theory, and underwater sound propagation.
After that, we finally get posted to a ship. For real! The Phase VI training can be done aboard either a Halifax Class Frigate, or an Iroquois Class Destroyer. It lasts a full year, with a possible extension of up to three months, if you need more time to absorb the required material. The first thing one is expected to do is become Officer of the Day qualified. This means that the captain trusts you to take care of his ship when he goes home for the night. It entails knowing what to do in case of a fire, flood, hazmat spill, the Queen showing up for a tour, terrorists trying to storm the base, the ship being told it needs to move to the next jetty over, the XO getting drunk and belligerent, or war breaking out. Or anything else that happens. A general guideline is that you should become qualified within three months, depending upon the ship’s schedule, as it is rather difficult to do while at sea.
The main requirement of the Phase VI training is to learn the ship’s systems. Remember that big long list of stuff that the CSEO was responsible for at the beginning of the writeup? Yeah, memorize everything about them. Plus a few others that I didn’t bother mentioning. And also, learn about administration, divisional stuff, career progression of NCMs, and the ERT. All of this while being loaded down with secondary duties. Fun times!
At the end of this year, you sit another board. Typically the board is five questions, consisting of 2 major systems, 1 minor system, a theory question, and a layered defence scenario, where you have to describe what will happen during an engagement from detection to destruction. The chairman of the board will be a Commander, joined typically by one Lieutenant-Commander, one Lieutenant, and your ship’s HOD, to argue on your behalf. It lasts about three and a half hours, which makes sense since you had just spent an entire year preparing for it.
Successful completion of this board is the main pre-requisite for promotion to Lieutenant(Navy). As well, you must have become Officer-of-the-Day qualified, and have served at least 3 years of commissioned service. Most Direct Entry Officers, who enroll after having already gotten their university degree, will already have at least 3 years by this point. But those who got their degree via an ROTP program, or at the Royal Military College, usually complete enough of the steps along the way during their summers that they do not have three years after graduation by the time they pass their board. These people will usually be promoted the following May.
And then after that, you are technically considered trade qualified. Most of the Lieutenant level jobs will then be open to you. There is one more qualification to obtain, that of the HOD qualification. It requires the sitting of another board, at the end of your AHOD posting. While this one does feature questions about some systems, it focuses more so on the role of the CSEO, especially during emergencies and action stations. Basically, your job is to convince some high ranking people that you'd be a good person to bring along to war. As well, it focuses on a lot of the administrative aspects of the job, such as ammunition management, and radiation hazard safety.
Once HOD qualified, almost all Lieutenant level jobs will be available to you. Then, it's a matter of waiting to get a HOD tour. Typical waiting times are about 3-7 years after finishing your AHOD, and selection is merit based. As I mentioned before, most people get promoted after their HOD tour. For most people, this means moving to Ottawa, as there are a lot fewer LCdr positions on the coasts than there are within NDHQ.
(Note: all these sources are on the DWAN
. You likely won’t be able to access them. Sorry.)
DGMEPM. "Available Post Graduate Studies." 18 Dec 2006. <dgmepm.ottawa-hull.mil.ca/training/availgrads.asp#mare87ltn> (20 Nov 2008.)
DGMEPM. "About the DG." 13 Dec 2006. <dgmepm.ottawa-hull.mil.ca/dgmepm/aboutdg.asp> (20 Nov 2008.)
DGRMC. "Naval Combat Systems Engineering (MOSID - 00344) - MOC: 87." <hr3.ottawa-hull.mil.ca/dgmc/engraph/mDetails_e.asp?Opensub=&mosID=00344#> (20 Nov 2008.)