Bomb disposal officers are responsible for safely removing explosives from various locations.
The job of a bomb disposal officer is to disarm and disassemble unexploded ordinance following battle or in order to increase the safety of civilian areas. After conflict, unexploded bombs, shells and mines may be left on a battlefield; bomb disposal officers are responsible for removing these and disassembling them in order to be studied by forensics. This is to enable the armed forces to stay ahead of enemies and terrorists by determining the makeup of the explosives and the likely next steps in their bomb making processes.
During non-conflict times, bomb disposal units may be called to investigate and respond to potential terrorist threats, such as ‘supermarket’ and ‘car’ bombs, often homemade. Alternatively, in conflict areas, peace time is used by bomb disposal officers to discover enemy landmines and hidden explosives to prevent fatalities of innocent civilians.
Bomb disposal officers must first complete an intense plethora of training before specialising in bomb disposal. Only between a quarter and a third of people who apply and train to become bomb disposal officers actually make the cut.
Bomb disposal officers work in a variety of environments, usually outside. They can be called to conflict areas or civilian locations depending on bomb threat alerts or clearing of areas. They work in teams and can work any hours of the day.
Bomb disposal officers have one of the highest basic salaries in the military as the job requires the highest level of combat and technical skill as well as civilian academia. Bomb disposal officers earn between £34,800 and £45,700 per year depending on experience.
Like most military jobs, salary increases with rank, usually in steps of between £5,000 per annum and £10,000 per annum.
Bomb disposal officers are responsible for deactivating and analysing explosives in order to ensure the safety of a threatened area. They have a wide variety of tasks including:
- Responding to bomb threats
- Locating potential explosive devices in both war zones and civilian areas
- Deactivating explosive devices
- Disassembling explosives in order for them to be forensically tested and screened so as to keep ahead of the enemy
- Discovering, mapping and removing landmines
- Working with a team of bomb disposal experts in order to ensure maximum safety in this high risk environment
- Communicating with other members of the team during explosive deactivation for efficient and effective operating
- Planning and reporting in a team
- Keeping records of all explosives found and deactivated
Bomb disposal officers do not need formal academic qualifications as most progress from being a soldier or officer. The qualifications come from military training and selection.
Those looking to join the explosive ordinance disposal unit need to first complete soldier/officer training and then progress through to completing engineer training, which requires a relatively high level of mathematical aptitude. From there, those who have moved up through the soldier route need to complete trade training.
Once basic training has been completed, asking to specialise in bomb disposal will lead to potential selection for a four week bomb disposal training course (only around 1/3 of people who apply are selected for this course). This qualification gives specialists the skills to recognise bombs and ammunition and to dispose of them or deactivate them safely. Bomb disposal officers will also gain qualifications in fields such as counter-terrorism and illegal arms.
Bomb disposal officers are amongst the most skilled specialists in the army due to the requirement to be both academically able and possess in depth military training. This means a bomb disposal officer needs to:
- Communicate eloquently and efficiently within a team environment
- Have analytical skills
- Be quick thinking and able to make difficult decisions under pressure
- Have exceptional judgement and problem solving skills
- Be able to learn practical proficiencies for the job easily and quickly and apply them in a real life situations
- Be calm and coherent at all times
- Have the capacity to learn new technologies and use them in the field
- Have mathematical precision and attention to detail
- Possess an excellent memory
- Be able to understand the explosive devices being dealt with and the techniques to defuse these
Bomb disposal officers work in a variety of environments. The job can be within a combat zone or in the presence of civilians as the unit is responsible for defusing and dealing with explosive devices in all walks of life. During times of battle, bomb disposal officers will work on battle grounds and within combat towns, locating explosives and defusing them, or responding to bomb scares. When not in warzones, bomb disposal officers may work responding to civilian calls concerning threats of explosive devices or can be in training to improve their skills set.
Bomb disposal officers mostly work outside in a highly dangerous environment. Their job is one of the highest risk jobs with a mortality rate disproportionately higher than most other careers. As the most highly specialised in their field, bomb disposal officers are armed with the most exceptional level of skill but occasionally casualties and fatalities occur in the line of work, as defusing explosives can be difficult and unpredictable.
The equipment used in defusing bombs is highly technical and requires bomb disposal officers to be technically minded. Bomb disposal robots are sometimes used but in other cases officers will disarm bombs and explosive ordinance themselves. Communication technology and other high tech equipment is provided by the military for officers to complete their job in the safest way possible.
The hours for bomb disposal officers not in war zones are usually normal office hours, in regards to training and base camp activities. Bomb scares can, however, occur at any time so officers are always ‘on call’ in case there is a threat that needs their attention. During combat, officers will work in rotation but can be called to action at any time. Uniform is supplied for all soldiers in the military, including bomb disposal officers, and safety precaution clothing and equipment is provided.
Gaining a position within the bomb disposal unit is all based on military experience. Officers must work their way through the correct channels in order to be considered for the position of a bomb disposal officer, showing the highest level of professionalism and aptitude for problem solving in highly pressured environments.
Selection for the bomb disposal unit is extremely difficult and the more ‘field’ experience a soldier has, the more chance they have of being accepted to the team. Versatility and leadership skills in previous work are also assets when applying.
- British Army (Ministry of Defence)
- United Nations
Working in the bomb disposal unit is very high up the military scale as it is a difficult career to progress into. As with all military careers, bomb disposal officers can move up through the ranks to sergeant and beyond, but as the unit is very small, there is little opportunity to progress and the ranks (awarded on leadership skills and merit) are not often offered.
Other officers leave the army to become bomb disposal contractors for the UN helping to clear landmines and to deal with explosives in various war zones and civilian environments.
Also known as…
- Bomb disposal engineer
- Explosive ordinance disposal specialist
Mine clearance diver
- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) specialist
- Ammunition technical officer
What’s it really like?
Allan Ginelly was a corporal in the Corp of Royal Engineers for the British Army, working closely with and assisting the bomb disposal unit. He now works as a bomb disposal contractor for the UN. Here is what he says about working in bomb disposal:
Allan, how long were you in the army for and where did it lead you to?
I was in the British Army for 16 years. In that time, I served 2 tours in Northern Ireland and 2 tours in the Falkland Islands. I also went to Bosnia, Belize, and Kuwait in 1991. Now I work for the United Nations as a contractor conducting landmine clearance and bomb disposal. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now worldwide; I’ve been contracted to deal with explosives in Albania, Kosovo, Russia, Iraq, Chile, Libya, South Sudan and Mauritania.
What is a typical day like when dealing with bomb disposal?
Well, the only way I can answer this is with another question, “how long is as piece of string?” Every day is different when you’re dealing with bomb disposal. You never know how a day will pan out. When you’re in combat, you can be called at any time to deal with any number and types of explosive devices, or you may just be clearing a field of landmines. Other times it can be record keeping or analysis.
What do you like best about the job?
Well both in what I was doing before and now, I love the variation. It’s so nice not to do a job which feels repetitive. I’ve never been a person who could bear to sit at a desk day in and day out, so this gives me fresh new challenges every day that I have to tackle. I also enjoy solving the problems that get dropped on me. I love the problem solving and lateral thinking that goes with a highly pressurised situation. It’s such a great feeling to walk away knowing that you not only cracked the issue at hand, but you also saved some lives!
What do you dislike or find challenging?
I think the most challenging aspect can often be the environment you’re operating in. I know it was, and still is for me. Fieldwork can take its toll on you as a person and test your strength and patience. There are so many issues to face in the way you’re working, from lack of infrastructure such as no running water, electricity and paved roads to suffering from a poor diet.
What advice would you give someone looking to be a bomb disposal officer?
You have to be prepared to take calculated risks. In the military, when you have a bomb disposal job there is a shorter period of risk, but the risk is higher. As a contractor it’s comparatively low risk but the risk is fairly constant. As an example, I’ve been working clearing a minefield six days a week for the last eight months so it’s a long period of time at a relatively low level of risk for this job (but still dangerous!). In the military the duration would be a couple of weeks at a time but the risk is much, much, greater as you’re often in a battlefield.
Lastly, what is the career progression like?
Well, it depends on what avenue you pursue. In the military the progression is dependent on merit and ability. As a contractor progression can be slow and varies from contract to contract depending on the suitability of the individual for the roles available, but the work varies considerably more.