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What Does a Combat Systems Officer Do?

By Benjamin Arie
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A Combat Systems Officer (CSO) is responsible for operating navigational and weapons systems on a military aircraft. CSOs are officers in the United States Air Force, and provide important information to pilots and other flight personnel. These officers usually work from onboard an aircraft, such as a bomber or fighter. This Air Force rating is also known by its former name, “Navigator.”

These officers serve as Mission Commanders for Air Force aircraft. This means that they must manage a mission and maintain awareness of the air battle area. These officers are in constant communication with aircraft pilots, and are often in charge of navigation and weapons systems. A Combat Systems Officer assists with planning the mission, and also helps pilots communicate and react to threats effectively.

In addition to assisting the pilot with vital mission management tasks, CSOs may also engage in reconnaissance and electronic warfare. These tasks typically require the officer to use sophisticated devices such as radio jamming gear and digital photography equipment. Combat Systems Officers can use these tools to obtain valuable intelligence about an area, or to prevent an enemy force from communicating.

All Air Force Officers, including CSOs, are required to hold a four-year degree from an accredited college or university. Individuals must also complete a training program that teaches them military bearing and leadership skills. Officers who wish to become CSOs must also meet rigorous intellectual and physical requirements in order to be qualified for air crew duty.

After being selected for a Combat Systems Officer position, military members receive advanced training. This typically takes place at Pensacola Air Station in Florida. Here, trainees practice navigation and flying skills using aircraft such as the T-6 Texan II and t-1A Jayhawk. Hands-on training in these aircraft allow officers to practice intercepting enemy airplanes and communicating with pilots in very realistic settings. Trainees also use special simulators to practice complex maneuvers and operations that are dangerous to perform in the air.

Following the completion of training, Combat Systems Officers can be assigned to a wide variety of military aircraft. Some CSOs work on bombers such as the B-52. Officers who are assigned to a tanker must assist with complicated in-flight refueling procedures, while CSOs on small fighter have the challenge of being isolated in an aircraft with only one other crew member. Some officers serve aboard Special Operations aircraft, and may perform reconnaissance or attack missions behind enemy lines.

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Discussion Comments

By Carpell — On Dec 11, 2013

With the air force using more and more drone aircraft for reconnaissance and combat missions, I wonder how many CSOs are affected? I imagine many are being retrained to work with drones rather than on manned aircraft.

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