Special forces of Australia

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An Australian Special Operations Task Group patrol in Afghanistan during October 2009

The special forces of the Australian Defence Force are units of Special Operations Command and associated units of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force that conduct and or support special operations to advance and protect the national security of the Commonwealth of Australia.[1] The special forces of Australia have a lineage to a variety of units raised in the Second World War such as the Independent and Commando Companies, Z Special Unit, Navy Beach Commandos, and the Coastwatchers.[2][3] Australian special forces have most recently been deployed to Iraq in Operation Okra as the Special Operations Task Group, as the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan in support of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and regularly for counter-terrorism pre-deploy to locations of major domestic events throughout Australia in readiness to support law enforcement such as the 2014 G20 Brisbane summit.[4][5]


Soldiers from the 1st Commando Company parachute with their inflatable boats from an RAAF C-130H into Shoalwater Bay

The special forces of Australia trace their lineage to the commando units such as the Independent and Commando Companies and reconnaissance and intelligence gathering units such as Z Special Unit part of Special Operations Australia (code name Services Reconnaissance Department SRD) and M Special Unit part of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) raised during World War II. The 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments raised post-war are descendants of the commando companies.[Note 1]

Command and control[edit]

The ultimate authority for the deployment of Australian special forces rests with the National Security Committee through consultation with the Chief of the Defence Force, the Secretary of Defence, and the Australian Intelligence Community. The Special Operations Command is the command responsible for Army special forces, including the Special Air Service Regiment, 1st Commando Regiment and 2nd Commando Regiment. The Chief of Joint Operations and joint task force commanders are responsible for the operational functions of Special Operations Command whilst the Chief of Army is responsible for "raise, train, sustain" functions.[7] The Special Operations Commander Australia reports directly to the Chief of the Defence Force for domestic counter terrorism incidents.[7] The Australian Army definition of special operations is "highly specialised and focused operations performed by specially selected, trained and prepared individuals and teams imbued with a creative mindset capable of producing solutions beyond conventional approaches" and that "these activities are designed to achieve tailored operational, military and national strategic effects beyond those of conventional forces."[7]

Functions and units[edit]

All the Australian Army special forces units have been grouped together under the Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) since December 2002.[8] Clearance divers are under the command of the Navy unless seconded to SOCOMD or joint task forces of the Joint Operations Command and the Air Combat Controllers are under the command of the Air Force unless operational when they are attached to SOCOMD units or joint task forces of the Joint Operations Command.

Direct action and advanced force operations[edit]

The main roles of the 1st Commando Regiment and the 2nd Commando Regiment is to conduct large scale offensive, support and recovery operations beyond the scope and capability of other Australian Defence Force units. Army doctrine specifies that the role of commando units is to "span the gap between conventional infantry operations and unconventional operations", focusing on advanced force operations and direct action missions.

Long range reconnaissance[edit]

Australian special forces trace their linage to the long-range reconnaissance units such as the M Special Unit and Z Special Unit and the British Long Range Desert Group for long-range special reconnaissance, surveillance, intelligence and sabotage operations during the Second World War. The SASR is specialist in long-range reconnaissance and SASR typically operates in small patrols of between five and six operators with the task of infiltrating enemy-held territory and providing intelligence on enemy activities and capabilities. During such tasks the SASR seeks to evade rather than confront the enemy. SASR soldiers also direct fire support including air strikes to destroy enemy installations and disrupt or kill enemy forces whenever possible. SASR reconnaissance patrols can be inserted by air (either by helicopter, parachute or high altitude parachute), land (on foot or by vehicle) or water (including by submarine, small boats, kayaks or diving) and have proved capable of covering long distances and staying concealed in jungle, desert and mountain terrain. SASR patrols may also conduct sabotage and short-duration raids on high-value targets, including headquarters, airfields and communications nodes.

Counter-terrorism and special recovery[edit]

A chief role of Australian special forces is conducting and supporting counter-terrorism operations and hostage rescue overseas and when called out within Australia in support state and territory police.[9] Dedicated sub-units are established designated as a Tactical Assault Group to respond to counter-terrorist incidents. Tactical Assault Group (West) is formed by the Special Air Service Regiment and Tactical Assault Group (East) is formed by the 2nd Commando Regiment and the Clearance Diving Branch.[10] The Tactical Assault Groups regularly conduct familiarisation exercises in capital cities, participate in National Anti Terrorism Exercises and pre-deploy to major domestic event locations in readiness to assume control from law enforcement if requested.[11][5]

Maritime operations[edit]

The water operations troops in the Special Air Service Regiment are military divers trained as assault swimmers dedicated to maritime special operations and all commandos in the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments receive amphibious operators training with Zodiac inflatable boats including parachute water insertion. The Clearance Diving Branch is the military diving unit of the Royal Australian Navy that is trained in all manner of military diving (not a dedicated special operations focus) including reconnaissance and shipping raids and sabotage.[12][13]

Support to special operations[edit]

The Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER) (previously called the Incident Response Regiment) provides Special Operations Command with CBRNE response capabilities, combat engineering, mobility and survivability, and ordnance disposal both domestically and on operations overseas.[8]

The Special Operations Logistics Squadron (SOLS) provides Special Operations Command with diverse logistic support both domestically and on operations overseas.[8]

Aviation support[edit]

The 171st Aviation Squadron and the 173rd Aviation Squadron of the Australian Army's 6th Aviation Regiment provides domestic and overseas rotary wing airlift and air mobility for the Special Operations Command including for Tactical Assault Groups.[14] Aviation support to special operations can be traced back to the Royal Australian Air Force's No. 200 Flight during the Second World War.[15]

Air combat control[edit]

The Royal Australian Air Force's No. 4 Squadron B Flight Combat Controller Team (CCT) provide air traffic control and forward air control for close air support in support of special operations.[16][17]

Special forces training[edit]

The Special Operations Training and Education Centre, formerly the Special Forces Training Centre, based in Singleton, NSW was established on 1 December 1998 to conduct selection courses for the Special Air Service Regiment, 1st Commando Regiment and 2nd Commando Regiment.[18][8] The ADF Parachuting School is responsible for providing individual parachute training primarily to Special Operations Command.

Women in the Special forces[edit]

On 27 September 2011, the Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced that women will be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles by 2016, including special forces.[19] Women in the Australian military have been known to pass the physical selection tests for the army's elite Commando Regiment for many years, such as notable Lieutenant Colonel Fleur Froggatt two decades before this announcement,[20] but were barred from joining due to their gender. In January 2012, Senior Defence sources said that while several women had recently passed physical entry tests for special forces, they had prevented further advancement due to 'injury concerns'. In refusing to provide the numbers of women who had passed entry tests for the SAS or commandos, or when they passed, Defence cited security concerns.[20]

Former units[edit]

Covert Action Directorate[edit]

In 1983, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Australia's civilian national foreign intelligence agency, established a special forces unit, named the Covert Action Directorate, to develop a special recovery capability.[21] The Directorate, which included a female operative, received training from the military to conduct overseas counter terrorism operations.[21][22][23] The SASR had recently developed a domestic counter terrorism capability establishing the Tactical Assault Group.[24] In November 1983, the Directorate held a bungled hostage rescue training exercise at the Sheraton Hotel without proper approvals, including the carriage of firearms, culminating in the public exposure of the unit.[21][23] The ASIS covert military function approval was subsequently revoked, ASIS subject to a Royal Commission investigation and the special recovery role assigned to the SASR.[21][24]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ The 2nd Command Regiment was previously called the 4th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (Commando). 1st Commando Regiment is an Army Reserve regiment.[6]


  1. ^ Langford, Ian (2014). Australian Special Operations: Principles and Considerations (PDF) (Army Research Paper, no. 4. ed.). Commonwealth of Australia. ISBN 9780992547424. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  2. ^ Horner 2002, pp. 19–35.
  3. ^ Kuring 2004, pp. 259–260 & 432–435.
  4. ^ Oakes, Dan; Clark, Sam (11 July 2017). "The spy and the SAS soldier with a loaded Glock". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b Bavas, Josh (20 October 2014). "Brisbane G20: Australian Defence Force special forces troops rehearse hostage recovery operation". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  6. ^ "New Name for Sydney Commandos" (Press release). Department of Defence. 19 June 2009.
  7. ^ a b c Davies, Andrew; Jennings, Peter; Scheer, Benjamin (2014). A Versatile Force: The Future of Australia's Special Operations Capability (PDF). Barton, Australian Capital Territory: Australian Strategic Policy Institute. ISBN 9781921302978. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d Blaxland 2014, p. 328.
  9. ^ Yaxley, Louise (17 July 2017). "Terrorism: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gives Defence Force power to help police during attacks". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  10. ^ Hill, Robert (25 May 2004). "Australia's Response to Terrorism". Department of Defence (Australia). Archived from the original on 15 March 2011. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  11. ^ Walker, Ian (2 May 2013). "Australian Defence Force counter terrorism operation halts Sydney CBD". Daily Telegraph. News.com.au. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  12. ^ Linton and Donohue., Commander E.W. (Jake) and Commodore H.J (Hec) (2015). United and undaunted : the first 100 years : a history of diving in the Royal Australian Navy 1911–2011. Queanbeyan, New South Wales: Grinkle Press Pty Ltd. ISBN 9780980282153.
  13. ^ O'Brien, Hugh (2014). Undaunted: From Clearance Diver to Mercenary: An Australian Man's Life on the Edge. North Sydney, NSW: Random House Australia. ISBN 9780857983480.
  14. ^ "6th Aviation Regiment". Australian Army. 19 December 2016. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
  15. ^ RAAF Historical Section 1995, pp. 174–175.
  16. ^ Allard, Tom (17 March 2008). "New squadron will aim to cut civilian deaths". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
  17. ^ Air Power Development Centre (June 2014). "Combat Control in the RAAF". Pathfinder: Air Power Development Centre Bulletin. Royal Australian Air Force (224). Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  18. ^ Kuring 2004, p. 435.
  19. ^ Thompson, Jeremy (27 September 2011). "Women cleared to serve in combat". The Australian.
  20. ^ a b Dodd, Mark (24 January 2012). "SAS and commandos out of reach for elite women soldiers". The Australian.
  21. ^ a b c d Toohey, Brian; Pinwill, William (1989). Oyster: the Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service. Melbourne: Heinemann. ISBN 9780855612504.
  22. ^ Mannix, Teresa (7 December 1983). "Army members involved in ASIS exercise". The Canberra Times. Trove – National Library of Australia.
  23. ^ a b Wright, Tony (14 January 1989). "Agent lifts the veil on ASIS team – on Her Majesty's Australian Secret Service". The Canberra Times. Trove – National Library of Australia.
  24. ^ a b Defence Honours & Awards Tribunal (22 December 2009). Inquiry into recognition of Australian Defence Force Service for Special Air Service Counter Terrorist and Special Recovery Duties (PDF) (Report). Australian Government. Retrieved 30 March 2017.


  • Blaxland, John (2014). The Australian Army from Whitlam to Howard. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107043657.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Horner, David (2002). SAS: Phantoms of War. A History of the Australian Special Air Service (Second ed.). Sydney, New South Wales: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-647-9.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Kuring, Ian (2004). Redcoats to Cams: A History of Australian Infantry 1788–2001. Loftus, New South Wales: Australian Military Historical Publications. ISBN 1876439998.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • Lord, Cliff; Tennant, Julian (2000). ANZAC Elite: The Airborne and Special Forces Insignia of Australia and New Zealand. Wellington, New Zealand: IPL Books. ISBN 0-908876-10-6.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • RAAF Historical Section (1995). Units of the Royal Australian Air Force. A Concise History. Volume 4 Maritime and Transport Units. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service. ISBN 0-644-42796-5.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Macklin, Robert (2015). Warrior Elite: Australia's Special Forces – From Z Force and the SAS to the Wars of the Future. Sydney, New South Wales: Hachette Australia. ISBN 9780733632914.