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North-West Mobile Force
NORFORCE cap badge.gif
Cap Badge of the North-West Mobile Force
Active 1 July 1981 – present
Country Australia
Branch Army
Role Regional Force Surveillance
Size One battalion
Part of 2nd Division
Garrison/HQ Larrakeyah
Nickname(s) Nackaroos
Green skins
Motto(s) Ever Vigilant
March Quick – The Vedette
Slow – The Never-Never
LTCOL John Papalitsas
Colonel in Chief HM The Queen
(Royal Australian Infantry Corps)
Unit Colour Patch NORFORCE UCP.PNG
Abbreviation NORFORCE

The NORFORCE (North-West Mobile Force) is an infantry regiment of the Australian Army Reserve. Formed in 1981, the regiment is one of three Regional Force Surveillance Units (RFSUs) employed in surveillance and reconnaissance of the remote areas of Northern Australia. It consists of a regimental headquarters, four surveillance squadrons, and an operational support squadron and training squadron.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s the need for a military presence in the north of Australia was recognised, with an integrated land, sea and air surveillance network developed in response. Part of this involved the raising of Australian Army Reserve infantry units known as Regional Force Surveillance Units (RFSUs) that would act as "eyes and ears" in the north.[1] NORFORCE was raised for operations in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Northern Australia[2] and was formed as an independent company on 1 July 1981, from the 7th Independent Rifle Company, and was based in Darwin under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John George. This unit was renamed as the North-West Mobile Force, or NORFORCE, in 1981.[2][3] Meanwhile, in 1985 two more RFSUs were raised, with the Pilbara Regiment established in Western Australia, and the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment established in Cape York, in Far North Queensland.[4]

The regiment's lineage goes back to 2/1st North Australia Observer Unit (2/1 NAOU) (also known as the "Nackaroos"), which were formed in 1942 as part of the defence of northern Australia from the Japanese during the Second World War, performing reconnaissance, scouting and coastal surveillance tasks across the Kimberley and the Northern Territory's sea and air approaches.[5] However, patrols were reduced in July 1943 as the Japanese threat subsided, and the unit was disbanded in 1945.[4][6] Due to the similarities between the two units and in order to give NORFORCE an identity it was decided that it would perpetuate the 2/1 NAOU traditions, and as such NORFORCE officially adopted the 2/1 NAOU's orange and green 'double diamond' colour patch and its unit heritage upon formation.[4]

NORFORCE also shares its heritage with a number of other units raised during the Second World War, including the Darwin Mobile Force, from which NORFORCE derives its name, and the Northern Territory Special Reconnaissance Unit which performed a similar role to the 2/1 NAOU and pioneered the enlistment and training of regionally based Aboriginal soldiers, mainly from Arnhem Land. The Darwin Mobile Force was raised in 1939, originally as an artillery unit due to restrictions of the Defence Act (1903) which prohibited the establishment of permanent infantry forces, and was the first Permanent Military Force unit to be raised in the Army. The unit was tasked with the surveillance and protection of the Darwin region. It was renamed the Darwin Infantry Battalion in 1942 and the 19th Battalion in 1943, and subsequently saw service during the New Guinea campaign.[4][7]

During its formative years between 1981 and 1985 the regiment consisted of two reconnaissance squadrons, with the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron responsible for the Northern Territory and the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron responsible for the Kimberley region in Western Australia. In early 1986 the alpha-numeric designations gave way to geographic names, with 1 Squadron being redesignated Darwin Squadron and 2 Squadron becoming Kimberley Squadron. Further growth of the unit saw Centre Squadron and Arnhem Squadron also being raised in 1986. Each of the regional reconnaissance squadrons has its own AO, and is further divided into a number of "troops", each of which consists of a number of "patrols".[8] Darwin Squadron is based a Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin and has maintained a presence in Daly River, Jabiru, Katherine, Maningrida and Wadeye, and on Bathurst, Crocker, Goulburn and Melville islands. The Kimberly Squadron is headquartered in Broome, with elements based in Argyle, Derby, Kalumburu, Kununarra, Bidyadanga and Wyndham. Arnhem Squadron is responsible for the eastern Northern Territory with its headquarters in Nhulunbuy, and elements at Lake Evella, Milingimbi, Ngukurr, Numbulwar and Ramingining, and on Elcho Island and Groote Eylandt. Centre Squadron operates from the South Australian border northwards, including the main regional centres of Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, the sparse Barkly Tableland, and north to the Robinson River and Borroloola.[9]

NORFORCE Area of Operations

The regiment is now a fully integrated unit consisting of a cadre of about 65 regular personnel supporting 435 Reservists.[10] Regimental Headquarters is at Larrakeyah Barracks in Darwin, while its area of operation (AO) covers 1.8 million square kilometres, encompassing the entire Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia; the largest of any military unit in the world today.[6] An operational support squadron and training squadron are also based in Darwin.[11] Borrowing the concept of different "skin" groups to differentiate clans, members of NORFORCE are also known as "Green skins".[12] The primary role of the regiment is reconnaissance, observation and the collection of military intelligence. In the unlikely event of an invasion of northern Australia, NORFORCE and the other RFSUs would operate in a "stay-behind" capacity.[13] Sixty percent of NORFORCE personnel are Aboriginal soldiers, drawn mainly from the area they patrol to draw on local knowledge.[5] This has resulted in great trust for the regiment among Aboriginal communities.[12]

Patrols can be inserted and extracted from the area of operations by small boat, airlifted by helicopter or light aircraft, drive in using a range of vehicles, or on foot.[14] Due to their operational role the RFSUs have a high priority for allocation of equipment. Equipment includes F-88 Steyr rifles, F-89 Minimi light support weapons, MAG 58 machine-guns, grenades, M18-A1 Claymore anti-personnel mines, Raven radios, specialised binoculars and telescopes, night vision equipment, cameras and advanced GPS satellite navigation systems. Vehicles include a variant of the Land Rover Perentie known the Regional Forces Surveillance Vehicle (RFSV), motorcycles, Zodiac inflatable boats, and aluminum boats.[15] In the future the RFSVs will be replaced by Mercedes-Benz G-Wagon 6×6 Surveillance Reconnaissance Vehicles (SRV).[16]

NORFORCE has the distinction of being granted the Freedom of Entry to a city or town on nine occasions, the most of any unit, ship or establishment in the Australian Defence Force.[17] Freedoms of Entry have been granted for Darwin in 1982, Derby in 1983, Alice Springs in 1984, Katherine in 1986, Wyndham in 1986, Broome in 1987, Kununurra in 1990, Tennant Creek in 1994 and most recently Darwin again in 2016.[8][18] In 2006, the regiment celebrated its 25th birthday by being presented with its first stand of colours.[19] All three RFSUs contribute patrols to Operation Resolute, the Australian Defence Force's contribution to patrolling Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone and coastline.[20] On 1 March 2010, NORFORCE became part of the re-raised 6th Brigade.[21]

On 1 September 2014, NORFORCE came under the command of the 2nd Division.[22]

Current organisation[edit]

As of 2015, NORFORCE comprised:[11][23]

  • Regimental Headquarters
    • Arnhem Squadron
    • Centre Squadron
    • Darwin Squadron
    • Kimberley Squadron
    • Training Support Squadron
    • Operational Support Squadron

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Unit History—the Pilbara Regiment". Department of Defence. 2009. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Kuring 2004, p. 390.
  3. ^ Rosenzweig 2001, p. 33.
  4. ^ a b c d "Unit History—North West Mobile Force". Department of Defence. 2009. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b "Norforce". Message Stick (Transcript). Australian Broadcasting Commission. 22 October 2004. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  6. ^ a b "Operation OUTREACH NT". Department of Defence. Retrieved 8 June 2009. 
  7. ^ Grey 2008, p. 141.
  8. ^ a b Rosenzweig 2001, pp. 230–252.
  9. ^ Rosenzweig 2001, pp. 72–73.
  10. ^ Macrae 1994, pp. 8–12.
  11. ^ a b "Border Security in Australia: NORFORCE Patrols Australia's Top End". Naval Forces Magazine. Farnborough, England: Moench. 12 February 2015. ISSN 0722-8880. 
  12. ^ a b Hancock 2010.
  13. ^ Langtry & Ball 1991, p. 235.
  14. ^ Rosenzweig 2001, p. 68.
  15. ^ Rosenzweig 2001, pp. 74–78.
  16. ^ "New Australian Army G-Wagon 6X6 Reconnaissance Vehicle Fitted With Weapons Suite". Ottawa Citizen. 2 October 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  17. ^ Rosenzweig 2001, p. 227.
  18. ^ Hartigan, Brian (9 August 2016). "NORFORCE to exercise Freedom of Entry – 13 August". Contact Air, Land and Sea. Dickson, Australian Capital Territory. ISSN 1449-2385. Retrieved 12 November 2016. 
  19. ^ McSweeney 2006.
  20. ^ "Global Operations: Border Protection". Department of Defence. 2013. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  21. ^ Gaze 2010.
  22. ^ "North West Mobile Force". Australian Army. Department of Defence. Retrieved 27 May 2015. 
  23. ^ "North West Mobile Force". Australian Army. Department of Defence. Archived from the original on 18 September 2011. Retrieved 21 January 2012. 


  • Gaze, Jillian (18 March 2010). "Key to Adaptability". Army News. Australian Army. Retrieved 20 March 2010. 
  • Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0. 
  • Hancock, David (7 July 2010). "Green Skin: Australia's Indigenous Army". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 9 August 2010. 
  • Kuring, Ian (2004). Redcoats to Cams: A History of Australian Infantry 1788–2001. Loftus: Australian Military Historical Publications. ISBN 1-876439-99-8. 
  • Langtry, J. O.; Ball, Desmond, eds. (1991). The Northern Territory in the Defence of Australia: Strategic and Operational Considerations. Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence. 73. Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. ISBN 9780731511563. 
  • Macrae, Ian (1994). "Dreamtime Diggers". Army Magazine. 19 (Winter): 8–12. ISSN 1034-3695. 
  • McSweeney, Mike (13 July 2006). "True Colours for NORFORCE". Army: The Soldiers' Newspaper (1147 ed.). Canberra: Department of Defence. ISSN 0729-5685. Archived from the original on 10 November 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2009. 
  • Rosenzweig, Paul A (2001). Ever Vigilant: The Regimental History of the North West Mobile Force (NORFORCE) 1981–2001. Darwin: North West Mobile Force. ISBN 1-876248-61-0. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Rosenzweig, Paul (1996). "Northern Vedettes: A History of Military Defences in Northern Australia". Sabretache. Military Historical Society of Australia. 37 (3, July/September): 3–10. ISSN 0048-8933.