Promotion in the actual RAF

In the RAF do people get promoted by their OC like in the ATC or is it more involved? Because I heard that to get to a certain ranks you have to have certain qualifications like A Levels, and even go through futher medical exams. As even if you’re some once in a lifetime leader with outstanding Warrant officer skills you can’t be it because you don’t have some qualification from school 20 years ago?

Promotion requirements vary quite a bit from trade to trade, for example technical trades will require higher levels of numeracy etc. Generally speaking, the more senior enlisted ranks in all trades do require a certain level of literacy and numeracy as they will be working increasingly as personnel/resource managers producing written documents and utilising figures on a daily basis. As a guide, direct entry SNCO roles currently require 5 GCSEs at grade C or equivalent. Those already in trade who aspire to higher ranks but lack the minimum educational qualifications would be encouraged to take additional courses through the station education centre. Promotion is usually accessed through positive annual reviews from CoC, completing the appropriate command and leadership courses and there being vacancies within that billet in the trade. Once eligible, applicants would usually sit a trade based promotion board. They may also be promoted to local acting rank prior to passing a promotion board to fill a local need. Some trades have acting rank as a default such as RAF Police who are all promoted to Acting Corporal on completion of Phase 2 training but remain Substantive SACs until they are selected for further promotion.



In the RAF as an officer, if you graduate from Cranwell and have degree you graduate as a Flying officer for which you will wait four year for promotion to Flight Lieutenant, during this time you are subject to annual confidential reports regarding progress and if in a flying post a separate part regarding flying abilities. If you don’t have a degree, you start for 2 years as a Pilot Officer, again subject to annual reporting. Promotion to Squadron Leader is competitive following various exams and courses and a vacancy with the speciality. Some have far more opening than others.

For professional officers nurses, dentists doctors, padre’s and lawyers, they undertake Specialist Officers and Re-entrant Officers course (SERE). They undertake the third part of the main course and graduate as a minimum of Flying Officer but have been known to graduate as a Group Captain.

For both there are first and second reporting officers for each annual assesment.

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I assume there is a specific reason why they are automatically promoted to Acting Corporal? Is it so they have authority over all non-NCO/Officer service people? Although I guess if needed, they “out rank” anyone on the wrong side of the law (or forgot their ID at the gate)?

Basically you need to be a JNCO or above to have any disciplinary powers in the armed forces. In the RAF this means that only Cpls and above can initiate ‘Administrative Sanctions’.


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So promotion in the RAF is through selection and merit, in the vast majority of ground trades.

Every year, you receive a report called and SJAR and that is your yearly appraisal for performance. There, your first and second reporting officers (which is often those directly in charge of you) grade and evaluate you throughout the year. There is a tick box there for promotion, one rank up. This is marked as either NO, DEV (developing), YES, HIGH and one more above high, but I forget the name.

If you get the one above a high, you then have a third RO.

If you get yes and above, provided you have the correct seniority, usually three years in rank, your reports go to the promotion selection board (PSB) where they are read and compared to others in your trade. So you won’t be compared with a musician if you are a medic or technician for example.

At the PSB, you are then ranked in order of competitiveness. And if you make the numbers of those they want to promote that year, congratulations you’ve been promoted. You hold acting rank until the completion of your promotion and trade specific courses however.

WRT to the questions asked reference qualifications, you must have achieved at least a level 2 in English and mathematics to be promoted to Corporal, I am unsure about progressions beyond that at this time, but I don’t think there is any extra requirement other than your promotion courses.
With the “once in a lifetime leader” statement, yes and no. Leadership if a funny thing and the airforce is generally concerned about how well you can do your job rather than your leadership. I was promoted, in part, due to my involvement with certain Chinook systems whereby, I quite literally wrote the book on their second line maintenance and established supply chains to ensure that spares are available for fault rectification. No leadership involved because, as a SAC, I had no subordinates.
There is now a talent marker for those who excel in the fields which can do away with the time in grade and number of SJAR requirements allowing you to be read on your first assesment however.

Notwithstanding the differing joining and subsequent eligibility qualifications which has been mentioned, the actual process for substantive promotions in the RAF is the same for officers and airmen, and has been since the late 90s. Local Acting promotions are different, but even those will only be against an established vacancy, officers, even COs, can’t simply make someone up because they feel like it.

For substantive promotions, the Planners in RAF Manning forecast quotas for ranks and trades/professions to give an estimate of the numbers who need to be promoted to fill known and upcoming vacancies. These vacancies are usually based on predicted outflow (retirements, early termination etc) at certain rank levels. Each trade or profession has dedicated officer of SNCO Career Managers, part of whose job is to post people, but they also advise on career matters too and they get to know their people pretty well. The Career Managers undertake what’s called a Pre-Board during which they read the Annual Appraisals of their people and come up with a list of those to be presented and formally ‘read’ by the Promotion Board. The Pre-Board list is usually 4 or 5 times larger than the number actually needed and includes those who the Career Manager thinks are in with a good chance of promotion, based on what’s been written about them. The Promotion Board, of 3 officers from the RAF at large and a Board President from RAF Manning, then reads as many Appraisals of each of those presented as they wish, but it’s generally only about 3 or 4 reports as they don’t have much time. After reading, each Boarding Officer then scores the individual out of 9, to come up with an overall score out of 36 (for officers, probably the same for airmen). These scores are then ranked with any equal scores reviewed by the Board who will separate them. The Board scores are then used in conjunction with the quotas to come up with the Promotion List. If someone holds a local Acting rank, they are considered and read in their substantive rank, but their Acting rank performance should be commented on in their Appraisal, so it will help.

Because promotions are based solely on what’s written in Annual Appraisals, it’s essential that these are accurate and well written. I know of several people who missed out on promotion because of a badly written narrative, or even a simple ‘however’ in their Appraisal!

So put simply, every year you get a review from the officers in charge, and if they say you’re good enough then you’ll get compared with everyone else eligible in your trade and then the best get promoted.

I was always told that in the RAF, and jobs outside the military as well, that you have to do your boss’s job and make him redundant to get promoted to his position.

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Not quite. You (normally) need X number of good reviews then you go to the board.

Nah, definitely not true.

And don’t forget, your boss will almost never be literally just one rung up from you.

In the forces, you may be a Sgt, but your ‘boss’ could be a Flying Officer, Flight Lieutenant, etc. You as a Sgt aren’t looking to be promoted to their position, you’re looking at FS. So you don’t need to do your boss’ job to get promoted.

Unless you get this new below the zone talent marker.


You never need a specific number of reviews, you need quality reviews. Somebody can have dozens of reports and not even get read, whereas someone else can have only 3 really good reports to be seen by the Board.

The ‘Below the Zone’ is pretty much just a check and balance really to make sure that the Career Managers are doing their pre boarding accurately.

You still need a minimum number, unless you are immediately read with the talent marker.
Promotion to Corporal in TG1 requires three years seniority, and explicitly three SJARs. Yes, they need to be well written, but that’s by the by and is down to your ROs, rather than the requirements of promotion.

For some promotions they are time served, like PO to Flg Off to Flt Lt. Does that mean no matter how much of a bad job you do you’ll definitely get promoted? Because I can imagine there being some resentment among peers that some guy got promoted for time served despite gathering dust for 3 years.

OK, what I meant was that just because someone has 5 reports doesn’t mean that they’ll automatically get read, it’s the quality not quantity that’s important. And yes, there is a minimum seniority, unless they’re marked as exceptional and below the zone.

I can’t answer for officer ranks.

You are an AC when you start basic training, and remain an AC until completion of phase two training, where you are promoted to LAC.

You are promoted to SAC upon completion of your trade ability tests.

Certain trades carry the extra rank of SAC(T), and there are different criteria for attaining this rank in different trades.

Corporal and above is then by competitive promotion.

Certain trades, such as nurses, may have time served promotion to keep them in-line with civilian pay scales, they are attested in and join as Corporals anyway if they do not commission. But that is not the norm.

Not necessarily, time promotions are dependent on satisfactory service, but it’s pretty rare for someone not to get it.

If I join the RAF, then I’ll probably go in as an officer. But I’ve heard that direct entrance to officers are not liked because they tend to have big egos and don’t know what there doing compared to someone who went from WO to Flg Off.

That’s utter nonsense.

Very very very few people get promoted all the way to WO and then commission, it’s a tiny pool.

Direct entry to officer is by a huge margin the most common way for someone to commission.

Where did you hear this from? Because I can only think it’s from someone who didn’t pass OASC and ‘had’ to go in through Halton instead and has let their bitterness shape their comments.


What I’ll also say, though, if it’s your ambition to join the RAF, don’t worry about promotion criteria now.

By far the harder thing will be actually getting in, the standards are so restrictive these days that getting past the many hurdles takes years and serious dedication.


Well no doubt there are some who don’t like it, but the RAF has always recruited at officer level (and only officers can be pilots).

Having said that it is more common across all services to see people with higher qualifications join the ranks. Speaking to people who have done so, it’s often driven by wanting to carry out their chosen trade rather than be a manager.

Pilots again being the exception, but the RAF has direct entry SNCOs as mentioned above.

If you want to fly but join up as an OR, look at the Army.