What Does a Geospatial Engineer (12Y) Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Evan Polenghi © The Balance 2019

Geospatial engineers in the Army help with the collection of sensitive geographic data. At its most basic, the job of the military occupational specialty (MOS) 12Y is collecting, analyzing, and distributing geospatial information.

One use for that information is to analyze terrain for military operations. But the work has other applications, too—for the military, for civilian disaster relief, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security.

Geospatial Engineer (12Y) Duties & Responsibilities

These soldiers extract geographic data from satellite imagery, aerial photography, and field reconnaissance and use that data to create maps. These activities help commanders visualize the battlefield and its terrain; part of the MOS 12Y job involves preparing briefs covering all aspects of the terrain. Geospatial engineers also perform other duties such as the following:

  • Create and maintain geospatial databases.
  • Extract geographic data from satellite imagery, aerial photography and field reconnaissance
  • Create and collect geographic data and compile it into maps
  • Help commanders visualize the battlefield
  • Create and maintain multiple geospatial databases
  • Prepare military-style briefs covering all aspects of the terrain

Geospatial Engineer (12Y) Salary

Total compensation for this position includes food, housing, special pay, medical, and vacation time. If you enlist under certain MOS codes in the Army, you may also be eligible for certain cash bonuses of up to $40,000 if the geospatial engineer job is considered one of the Army's Jobs in Demand.

You may also be able to earn education benefits, such as scholarships to cover the full cost of tuition, a stipend for living expenses, and money for books and fees.

Education, Training & Certification

Candidates need to go through testing and complete a training program for this position, as follows:

  • Testing: You'll need to score at least a 100 on the General Technical (GT) and a 100 on the Skilled Technical (ST) portion of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. The subtests for the ST category include General Science (GS), Word Knowledge and Paragraph Comprehension (VE), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), and Mechanical Comprehension (MC).
  • Training: Soldiers in this job spend 10 weeks in basic combat training and 20 weeks in advanced individual training. Part of this advanced stage takes place in the classroom, and part in the field with on-the-job instruction, including training on geographic information systems. You'll also learn how to interpret geographic imagery, how to conduct geographic analysis and perform other related skills. MOS 12Y geospatial engineers receive training to help them learn to prepare briefings for commanding officers to help learn all aspects of a new terrain, which is especially important in battlefield situations.
  • Security Clearance: Since this MOS involves the collection of sensitive information that could have an impact on combat operations, a secret security clearance is needed, so any soldier seeking this job has to meet those requirements. You'll be subject to an investigation of your character and conduct, looking into your finances, any criminal activity, and in some instances mental and emotional stability. The point of these investigations is to ascertain if an individual is eligible for access to national security information.

Geospatial Engineer (12Y) Skills & Competencies

To qualify for and excel in this job, individuals should possess some or all of the following:

  • Normal color vision is required, and soldiers in this job must be U.S. citizens
  • An interest in geography, maps, and charts
  • Possession of basic computer skills and ability to work with drafting equipment
  • Preference for a technical career field
  • Ability to present ideas in computer-generated two- and three-dimensional output

Job Outlook

Many aspects of this job are specific to the military and may not translate directly to civilian careers. But some of the skills you'll learn are likely to be useful for jobs at construction or surveying companies, and the computer programs you'll learn may be useful for jobs in civilian architecture firms.

Soldiers interested in working in a geospatial engineer or similar role outside of the military may be eligible for civilian employment by enrolling in the Army PaYS program. The PaYS program is a recruitment option that guarantees a job interview with military friendly employers that are looking for experienced and trained Veterans to join their organization. You can find out more online at the Army PaYS Program site. The following are some of the companies that participate in the program:

  • AT&T, Inc.
  • Hewlett-Packard Company
  • Kraft Foods Global, Inc.
  • Sears Holdings Corporation
  • Time Customer Service, Inc.
  • Walgreen Co.

Work Environment

The job of a geospatial engineer is typically performed in an office environment and can be located either on land or aboard a ship.

Work Schedule

This position typically has a full-time work schedule.

How to Get the Job


Complete Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training.


Take the ASVAB Test and achieve the appropriate ASVAB Score of Skilled Technical (ST): 100, General Technical (GT): 100


Make sure that you can meet any additional requirements, such as a background investigation, secret security clearance, and physical strength requirements.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a geospatial engineer career also consider the following civilian career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

  • Civil engineer: $86,640
  • Geographer: $80,300
  • Surveyor: $62,580

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018