Captain Sharon Malkin Royal Navy 

Being an Engineer in the Royal Navy

Why did you choose engineering?

Two main reasons.  Firstly, my dad was a technician in the Royal Air Force and worked on the Vulcan aircraft.  This was really exciting, especially when my brother and I had a special visit to the air station one day and walked on the wing of the aircraft and lay in the huge bomb bay!  I think this really sparked an interest in aircraft generally.  Secondly, throughout my school days I was naturally good at mathematics and science and really enjoyed the subjects.  Then one day the Women In Science and Engineering bus visited my school; as I walked onto the bus I suddenly realised, at the age of 14, that engineering is what you could do if you were good at mathematics and physics.  What’s more, they told me that there weren’t many women in engineering and I have always liked a challenge!  Despite my school being rather old fashioned about the subjects that girls/women should study at university, I choose Engineering, rather than ‘Philosophy, Politics and Economy’ as originally suggested by my Headmistress!

Women in Engineering

Why engineering in the Royal Navy?

One can be an engineer and work almost anywhere in support of anything – that is the beauty of the profession.  The Royal Navy appealed to me because of its sense of common purpose, teamwork and camaraderie and the fact that it operated aircraft.  One again, it struck me that if you could operate aircraft off the back of a ship you could operate it anywhere; and, there are fewer Fleet Air Arm positions in the RN than in the RAF therefore it was another little challenge!

What is it that you enjoy the most about your job in engineering?

Through out my 23-year career so far I have had such a variety of exciting and interesting engineering roles that have mixed both practical engineering, operational experience and application of engineering principles to support the development of military capability.  I have worked on the deck of an aircraft carrier launching Sea Harrier aircraft; held responsibility for 120 maintainers and up to 6 aircraft on embarked and land operations; been responsible for Engineering Standards and Practices across 4 x Merlin Mk1 helicopter operational squadrons; worked with teams to design urgent operational modifications and provide critical airworthiness advice; been responsible for the technical co-ordination of the design of the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and the F-35B jet; overseen technical investigations into structural failures; provided risk mitigation of integration and design issues; provided Subject Matter Expertise for specialist AE policy, training policy and support policy advice for aviation units, embarked and ashore; worked with specialist scientists and engineers to support operational units; reviewed emerging technologies for their potential to game change maritime capability; worked jointly with the Army and Royal Air Force engineers and served on several ships and units with a variety of interesting people.

Why is engineering in the RN a great career choice?

There are so many opportunities as an engineer in the RN.   One can work with aircraft, ships, submarines, complex integrated mission systems, data analytics, offensive and defensive cyber defence systems, complex propulsion systems and new weapons systems.  There are opportunities to extend professional and personal education and knowledge through accredited courses with both Service and external providers.  There is a need for both very practical, hands-on engineers and those who can apply their engineering principles in design, support and capability development.  One of the great things about being an engineer in the RN is that it is very much about about working with, helping and leading people.  RN capability always has to evolve and change rapidly to meet threats therefore there is always the need to apply your knowledge to get more out of what we have in different ways or help develop new capabilities with new technologies and techniques.  Engineering underpins everything the RN does.  

What would you like to achieve in engineering in the future? And where do you see engineering in the Royal Navy in the future?

I am really enjoying my current innovation role which includes linking more closely and effectively the current defence Science and Technology portfolio to future maritime capability  - this includes understanding the role of autonomy, unmanned systems and novel weapons in the future RN.  The emergence of technologies such as additive manufacture, data analytics, blockchain, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and biotechnology offer game changing opportunities for military application.

I see engineers in the Royal Navy of the future needing to understand much more about the relationship between humans and technology/information.  It could be that the divide between operator and maintainer/engineer reduces and engineers are less platform-focused.  Organic specialists within the RN will be important. Technology will never fully replace humans within the military and engineers will be ever important in understanding the impact of systems, emerging technology, information and decision making on delivering effect and maintaining the edge in warfighting.

International Women in Engineering Day

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