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How do I get envolved with designing weapons for the military?

  1. Nov 29, 2011 #1
    I am a high school senior looking for advice about a career plan. I have some experience with CNC and am taking a few engineering courses through my high school. I want to design weapons for the military. However, I do not want to serve in the armed forces. I am looking to begin working with the least amount of debt possible. Do you have to go to college to get a decent job designing weapons? Is there a procedure that I should know about? Are there companies that work for the military that I should know about? How do I get evolved? Some of my interests include exoskeleton technology, aircraft, and batteries.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2011 #2
    I've heard los alamos hires fresh engineers when they graduate from my school. As far as anything in that field, you probably need a degree.
  4. Nov 29, 2011 #3
    There are many government contractors that make weapons for the military. For example, Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Az. That company makes missiles. Are those weapons enough? That is only one company of many. Become an engineer and get hired at one of those companies. There is no need to be in the military or even in the civil service.
  5. Nov 29, 2011 #4
    Yeah Ive heard of Raytheon. They make guidance systems for missiles. That sounds like something I'd be interested in. Thanks. Ill do some more research.
  6. Nov 29, 2011 #5


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    And yes, you absolutely need a college education if you want to design weapons. As a high school graduate, you wouldn't know the first thing about designing modern weaponry (as is true for almost any other modern engineering field).
  7. Nov 29, 2011 #6


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    You are probably going to have to get an internship with such a company that will sponsor you for a security clearance. You will not be able to work on weapons systems for a defense contractor without a security clearance.
  8. Dec 23, 2011 #7
    Check out community college. There are quite a number of students in mine that while got accepted to virginia tech decided to go to community college and plan to transfer to tech or uva as juniors to save money. Some also have full scholarships at the community college.

    You can get all the math and physics out of the way and then take the more advanced classes at a 4 year school.

    The only downfall i have found with community colllege is it may be difficult to get into grad school. For "just" a undergrad in engineering i think they are fantastic.
  9. Dec 23, 2011 #8
    I knew a guy who worked on rockets for the military, BS MechE, was not in the services, but his background was clean -- ie no criminal record, didn't drink / do drugs.
  10. Dec 24, 2011 #9
    If you are planning to be an engineer make sure you check your schools degree plan before taking classes at community college. I took all my basics in community college, and by the time I went to a university, I realized you have to take engineering classes starting freshman year in order to graduate on time. So, If you plan on being an engineer, and you want to graduate on time, I'd recomend going straight to a university, and take your basics during the summer at community college.
  11. Dec 26, 2011 #10
    As far as hiring goes, the only real difference is that you have to get a security clearance, which normally gets done through the hiring process. Other than that for most jobs it's the same as getting hired by a non-defense agency.
  12. Dec 27, 2011 #11
    If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.
  13. Dec 27, 2011 #12
    make sure you're a US citizen too
  14. Dec 27, 2011 #13


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    Keep a clean nose, get a good education, and try to get engineering internships each summer, if you can.

    Even if you aren't close to graduation, if recruiters from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and the other big defense companies show up to try recruiting on your campus, show up and express an interest.

    As for keeping your nose clean, almost any drug-use apart from moderate alcohol use (non-binging, please) will make it tough for you to get security clearances. Gambling is problematic, and non-standard sexual preferences might make it harder, too, despite the "repeal of don't ask" for the rank and file military.

    Depending on the positions that you might be considered for, you could expect neighbors, family, friends, etc to be visited and interviewed to see if you're naught or nice. If you are an EE designing a computer guidance system for a spy satellite or for drone-mounted missiles, you'd better expect to have to clear some pretty tough clearance hurdles.
  15. Dec 27, 2011 #14
    Allow me to expound upon what Turbo implied: A security clearance for the sort of thing you're interested in is likely going to be very costly to maintain.

    I once interviewed for a company I will not name. The job was to install and repair cryptographic machines for embassies. It would involve extensive travel. However to maintain a job like that I would need to take a polygraph test every six months, I would not be able to socialize with people much, and I would have my movements monitored and restricted for up to five years after the job was over.

    Even at the young age of 20, I knew that job wasn't for me.

    I won't say whether you'll need a clearance like that. However, maintenance of any sort of clearance is difficult, and if anyone's hair blows the wrong way, you could find yourself out of the job on on the street without any warning. I know people who have lost their clearance to work because of paperwork snafus.

    Yes, you do get paid well. But there are reasons...
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2011
  16. Dec 27, 2011 #15


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    Pretty standard for working with crypto.

    Sorry, that's a load of it. You can socialize as much as you want with a clearance... you just don't necessarily talk about work.

    "Restricted" usually means you check with a higher authority if you go to certain countries, not all countries.

    Again, not true. It's not necessarily "easy" to maintain a clearance, but hundreds of thousands of people do without any issue at all. The hard part is getting one to get your foot in the door.
  17. Dec 28, 2011 #16
    FSS, do yourself a favor and refrain from telling people what you think they experienced first hand. I was there. I know what I was told. You were not.

    Second, this interview took place during the cold war. Yes, things have probably changed since then.

    Third, the job did involve significant work overseas in those very countries you cited. One's ability to "fraternize" (that was the word they used) was limited. Again, things could have changed since then. My point is to show where some of these concerns have been and what such clearances could be like.

    Fourth, I live not far from a place that has some of most secret squirrel stuff in the US (Fort Meade, Maryland). I know quite a few who have worked or still work there. I know many who have very significant clearances. For most, things go wonderfully well --until perhaps one day, they don't. Navigating through the maze of security clearances is great until the paper-work goes awry or until you annoy some arrogant muckety muck with too much authority for his or her own good. I have seen this happen to several individuals I have known.

    I speak from the personal experience of having been there, and from personally knowing many who have had these clearances as well.

    Working with a clearance is often difficult and frustrating because, even though you're cleared, the sources of information are frequently obscured. Often there are clues that the information may be wrong, but you have no way to call someone up and say "Could you please re-check that information because I have a concern that it may be misinterpreted?"

    Again, Security clearances are not to be taken lightly. Admittedly, if you want to design weaponry, there really isn't much choice but to get one. However, exoskeletons, aircraft, and batteries (the sorts of things the original post mentioned) are not necessarily military hardware. There are civilian sides to this too, and you may find that it is more fun working in a profession where you can share ideas freely.
  18. Dec 28, 2011 #17
    Design work is where the degree comes into play....if you want to run a custom CNC shop where you MAKE the parts, then you can do that w/o a degree...but someone else is doing the design work.

    If you go the route of being analogous to a gunsmith, you make say a very accurate long range sniper rifle...and the Gov wants some, then you can bid on contracts to supply these rifles, etc.

    There are many ways to be involved that do not involve a "spy vs spy" environment.
  19. Dec 28, 2011 #18


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    You made several statements that are simply inaccurate. In the interest of keeping things realistic, I corrected you. Do yourself a favor and acknowledge reality and you won't be called out for not doing so.

    It still is. In certain countries and/or with certain nationalities it will always be scrutinized. Either one accepts this and moves on or one puts their clearance in jeopardy. It's really not ambiguous at all. Also, there is no restriction (zero, nil, nada) for simply talking to someone. You simply cannot argue that this is the case, because it's not. Reporting requirements are a separate issue.

    Then they must not be very pro-active and/or intelligent. It does not take a genius to maintain a security clearance, even at the crypto level. Every government agency and every reputable contractor has legal means to iron out all but the most serious issues with clearances. You are welcome to keep portraying security clearances in a false light, but don't get fussy when you're called out on it.
  20. Dec 28, 2011 #19
    Get involved in summer student programs. Most national and military labs have these types of programs. I know LLNL, LANL, Sandia, ARL, ONR all have summer student programs. If you do well during the summer there is a good chance you will get invited back the following year. Money to pay summer students mostly comes from a general education fund so PIs don't have to directly fund the students.
  21. Dec 28, 2011 #20
    For what it's worth, I used to work for Lockheed Martin after some time in the military where I received a security clearance. I have since became a full time non-working student, however, I will start an internship there this summer. The only reason I was even considered for the internship is because I already had a security clearance.

    The way I understand it, is that it costs X dollars to sponsor you to get a clearance. Companies are not too keen on doing that when there is no promise that you will even get cleared. In this sense, it's almost impossible to get an internship into any position that would normally require a clearance without a prior clearance.

    I've worked for Lockheed, Dyncorp, and Raytheon, and I have known this to be the case in all three instances. Your only chance to work for these companies will be out of college after obtaining a degree, or after the military (or other employment) where you were previously cleared. Unless of course you know someone who can get you in the door that is, which I suspect is the case for most employment opportunities.

    You might want to think about what exactly you hope to be designing some day. Look into some companies that do it, and check out their employees. What degrees do they have, where did they go to school. Figure out what the particular climate is for your specific field of interest.
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