Special forces of Australia

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]

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


1st Commando Company
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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Parachute Training School is responsible for providing individual parachute training primarily to Special Operations Command.

Women in the Special forces

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

Covert Action Directorate

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



  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.
  • 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.
  • Kuring, Ian (2004). Redcoats to Cams: A History of Australian Infantry 1788–2001. Loftus, New South Wales: Australian Military Historical Publications. ISBN 1876439998.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Further reading

  • 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.
Arthur Reginald Evans

Arthur Reginald Evans, DSC (14 May 1905 – 31 January 1989) was an Australian coastwatcher in the Pacific Ocean theatre in World War II. He is chiefly remembered for having played a significant part in the rescue of future US President John F. Kennedy and his surviving crew after their Motor Torpedo Boat, PT-109, was sunk by enemy action in August 1943.

Australian Federal Police

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is the national and principal federal law enforcement agency of the Australian Government with the unique role of investigating crime and to protect the national security of the Commonwealth of Australia. The AFP is an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs and is responsible to the Minister for Home Affairs and accountable to the Parliament of Australia. Since October 2014 the Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police has been Andrew Colvin.The AFP has a focus on preventing, investigating and disrupting transnational, serious, complex and organised crime including terrorism and violent extremism, cybercrime, child exploitation, drug smuggling, and human trafficking. The AFP is also responsible for delivering community policing in the Australian Capital Territory through ACT Policing and to other dependent territories, providing protective security in major airports and close protection for dignitaries including the Prime Minister of Australia and foreign diplomatic missions, delivering law enforcement training for Asia-Pacific partner agencies, acting as Australia's international law enforcement and policing representative, and contributing to United Nations peacekeeping around the world. The AFP is also a member of the National Intelligence Community and works closely with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Border Force, and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

Clearance Diving Branch (RAN)

The Clearance Diving Branch is the specialist diving unit of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) whose versatile role covers all spheres of military diving, and includes explosive ordnance disposal and maritime counter-terrorism. The Branch has evolved from traditional maritime diving, and explosive ordnance disposal, to include a special operations focus.


The Coastwatchers, also known as the Coast Watch Organisation, Combined Field Intelligence Service or Section C, Allied Intelligence Bureau, were Allied military intelligence operatives stationed on remote Pacific islands during World War II to observe enemy movements and rescue stranded Allied personnel. They played a significant role in the Pacific Ocean theatre and South West Pacific theatre, particularly as an early warning network during the Guadalcanal campaign.

Holsworthy Barracks

Holsworthy Barracks (ICAO: YSHW) is an Australian Army military barracks, located in Holsworthy approximately 25 kilometres (16 mi) from the central business district, in south-western Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The barracks is part of the Holsworthy military reserve, which is 22,000-hectare (54,000-acre) training area and artillery range for the Australian Army, established in the 1880s and been in active use since World War I. Following World War II it became a major base for the permanent component of the Australian Army in New South Wales. Holsworthy Military Airport is also located in the reserve. Activities carried out on the base include the use of firing ranges, chemical weapons testing, fire training, vehicle maintenance, and bulk chemical storage and distribution from numerous above ground and underground storage tanks.Following the movement of many units of the Regular Army to Darwin, Northern Territory, in the late 1990s many Army Reserve units were moved from other depots to Holsworthy Barracks, including the Headquarters of the 5th Brigade.The base is currently home to 142 Signal Squadron, 2nd Commando Regiment (2 Cdo Regt), and 6th Aviation Regiment. A number of training units and the Defence Force Correctional Establishment are also located at Holsworthy.

The base is also home to the regional headquarters of the NSW Australian Army Cadet Brigade.

MV Krait

The MV Krait is a wooden-hulled vessel famous for its use during World War II by the Z Special Unit (Z Force) of Australia during the raid against Japanese ships anchored in Singapore Harbour. The raid was known as Operation Jaywick.

The MV Krait is on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) in Sydney. The vessel was moved to Michael Bartley Shipwrights for hull restoration works at Woolwich. MV Krait has now returned to ANMM for continuation of her restoration by Museum Shipwrights and Engineers to the 1943 configuration representing the time of the Singapore raid. Installations such as Radio room representations, long range tanks and associated pipework have been installed along with galley module added to aft deck.

M Special Unit

M Special Unit, was a joint Allied special reconnaissance unit, part of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), in the South West Pacific theatre of the Second World War. A joint Australian, New Zealand, Dutch and British military intelligence unit, it saw action in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands between 1943–1945, against the Empire of Japan.The unit was formed in 1943, as a successor to The Coastwatchers. Hence M Special Unit's role was focused upon gathering intelligence on Japanese shipping and troop movements. Small teams from the unit were landed behind enemy lines by sea, air or land, in contrast to its counterpart, Z Special Unit, which became well known for its direct-action commando-style raids.

Perhaps the best-known member of M Special Unit was Sergeant Leonard Siffleet, who was executed after being taken prisoner during Operation Whiting in 1943. A photograph of Siffleet in his last moments achieved iconic status following the war.M Special Unit was disbanded at the end of the war on 10 November 1945.

National Security Committee (Australia)

The National Security Committee of Cabinet (NSC) is the peak decision-making body for national security of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a committee of the Australian Government Cabinet of Ministers though decisions of the NSC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet.The NSC has similar but not analogous functions as the United States National Security Council and the United Kingdom National Security Council.

No. 200 Flight RAAF

No. 200 Flight was a Royal Australian Air Force special duties flight of World War II. The flight was formed in February 1945 to support the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) and saw action over Borneo and the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) from March that year until the end of the war in August. No. 200 Flight was disbanded in December 1945.

No. 4 Squadron RAAF

No. 4 Squadron is a Royal Australian Air Force squadron composed of the air force special forces Combat Controllers, aircrew who operate the Pilatus PC-9A(F) (Forward Air Control variant) aircraft and instructors for the Australian Defence Force Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) course.The squadron was previously a fighter and army co-operation unit active in both World War I and World War II. Formed in late 1917, the squadron operated on the Western Front as part of the Australian Flying Corps until the armistice in November 1918. It was disbanded after the war in mid-1919, but re-raised in 1937 and 1940. In 1942 it deployed to New Guinea, where it supported military forces by spotting for artillery and providing reconnaissance and close air support. As the war progressed, the squadron took part in the Huon Peninsula, New Britain and Borneo campaigns. It was disbanded in early 1948, but was re-formed on 2 July 2009 to provide training to forward air controllers and to support Army Special Operations Command.

Operation Jaywick

Operation Jaywick was a special operation undertaken in World War II. In September 1943, 14 commandos and sailors from the Allied Z Special Unit raided Japanese shipping in Singapore Harbour, sinking six ships.

Operation Opossum

Operation Opossum was a World War II raid undertaken by Australia's Z Special Unit in 1945 on the island of Ternate near Borneo to rescue the Sultan of Ternate, Iskander Muhammad Jabit Syah.

Operation Python (1943–44)

Operation Python was carried out by the Allied commando unit Z Special Unit, during World War II. The objective of the mission was to set up a wireless station near Labian Point in North Borneo and undertake covert operations reporting on the sea lane of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Sibutu Passage and the Balabac Strait of the Sulu Sea. The operation was split into Python I and Python II.

Their first task was to plant three of their fellow operators with their radio transmitter at a safe distance, so that coded intelligence could be sent back to Australia. In their information forays and reconnaissance, they traveled many hundreds of miles at great risk using Hoehn military folboats along the coast and accessible inland waters.

Parachute Training School (Australian Army)

The Parachute Training School (PTS) is an Australian Army unit part of Special Operations Command that provides training in parachuting techniques, develops parachute doctrine and techniques and conducts trial-evaluations of parachute systems and associated equipment. The PTS is based adjacent to HMAS Albatross, Nowra, New South Wales.

Royal Australian Navy Beach Commandos

During World War II the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) formed beach commando units to go ashore with the first wave of amphibious assaults. They would conduct local reconnaissance, signpost the beaches, control boat traffic, and communicate with the maritime forces. These were known as Royal Australian Navy Beach Commandos. They took part in the Borneo campaign.

Services Reconnaissance Department

The Special Operations Australia (SOA), previously known as the Inter-Allied Services Department (ISD) and later given the cover name of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD), was an Australian military intelligence and special reconnaissance unit, during World War II.

Special Operations Command (Australia)

The Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) is a command within the Australian Defence Force and was established on 5 May 2003 to unite all of the Australian Army's special forces units and by 2008 was fully operational. Australia's Special Operations Command is of equivalent status to Australia's Fleet, Forces and Air Commands. It is modelled on the equivalent commands in the United States and British military forces, and is led by a major general as Special Operations Commander Australia (SOCAUST).

The origins of SOCOMD began in 1979 with the army creating a small Directorate Special Action Forces—Army. On 13 February 1990, Headquarters Special Forces was established, which was renamed in 1997 to Headquarters Special Operations and in 2003 to Special Operations Headquarters or SOCOMD.

Special Operations Engineer Regiment (Australia)

The Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER) is a specialised unit of the Australian Army. The Regiment forms part of the Special Operations Command. The unit was formed in 2002 as the Incident Response Regiment (IRR), they are deployed to respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive incidents. The Regiment was transferred into the newly raised Special Operations Command in 2003. In 2010 and 2011 its role changed to supporting the army's special forces units, and it was renamed accordingly.

Special Operations Logistics Squadron

The Special Operations Logistic Squadron (SOLS) is an independent and specialised unit of the Australian Army based in Sydney, New South Wales which provides specialist logistical support to all units of the Special Operations Command in support of special operations. It has developed a "jack of all trades" capability across military logistics including rapid prototyping and metal fabrication.

Special Forces of Australia
Australian Army
Royal Australian
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Historical units

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