PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
The Australian Defence Jobs website states:
“[Australian] Commandos are trained to an exceptionally high level, both physically and mentally and expected to perform accordingly. A Commando is mentally tough, quick thinking, innovative and can keep a cool head in difficult and complex situations all over the world.”
Within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Commando personnel are considered Special Forces (SF) in contrast to the United Kingdom who considers their Commandos (both Royal Marines Commandos and All Arms Commandos) as elite forces.
Australian Commandos, part of the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOMD), are highly skilled soldiers who are trained and qualified in a range of advanced specialist weapons and equipment and can deploy to their area of operations over long distances using a wide range of insertion methods. Commandos can operate in a variety of demanding operational situations in any region of the world where Australia’s national interests are served. In recent times, Commandos have deployed to a wide range of locations including East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands.
Commandos work hard and for long hours, therefore they must be mentally tough, able to cope with extended irregular hours and have a demonstrated ability to balance their professional and personal responsibilities. As a Commando individuals will be expected to undertake new tasks quickly, respond effectively to challenges and to adapt to different environments. This includes the ability to operate effectively and without signs of undue stress, panic or excessive fear when exposed to heights, in dark confined spaces, in the ocean or in a surf zone at any time, either alone or as part of a team.
For most Commando aspirants there will be five stages to becoming Commando-trained:
- Stage 1: Army Recruit Course (80-days);
- Stage 2: Infantry Operations Basic Course (72-days);
- Stage 3: Special Forces Accelerated Infantry Training Programme (6-weeks);
- Stage 4: Commando Selection and Training Course (6-weeks); and
- Stage 5: Commando Initial Employment Training (11-months).
This article is divided into five sections for easier reading, starting with Section One which provides a background to Commando forces, aim of Commando training and gender. Section Two looks at entry standards and applications before moving onto Section Three which provides an overview of the latest iteration of selection and training for Commando aspirants (the information most people are after) which looks at the various tests that must be successfully completed during, as well as at the end of, the course. The penultimate section looks at the training and units encountered during Commando training and finally Section Five provides some useful information such as useful links and documents.
1.1 Brief History
The 1st Commando Regiment, based at Randwick in New South Wales, is the second of three combat capable units within SOCOMD and is an integrated unit composed of regular, ex-regular and reserve soldiers. The 1st Commando Regiment’s primary function is to provide individual commando reinforcements to the Army’s full-time Commando unit, the 2nd Commando Regiment. The 1st Commando Regiment also provides specialist command and control capabilities for Special Operations Command.
Raised in 1955, the 1st Commando Regiment has grown from two independent commando companies in Sydney and Melbourne, to raising a commando signals squadron, and finally a Regimental Headquarters in 1981.
The Sherwood Green Commando beret is worn as the primary form of head dress, formally recognising Commando qualification. The Sherwood Green beret was adopted due to the close association with the British Army and Marine Commandos of WWII.
The regimental badge features a silver WWII era Australian fighting knife surmounted by a gold boomerang engraved with the regimental motto ‘Strike Swiftly’.
The 2nd Commando Regiment is the third of three combat capable units within SOCOMD. The 2nd Commando Regiment was established on 19 June 2009 when it was renamed from the 4th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (Commando).
The 2nd Commando Regiment’s history stems from the decision in 1996 to convert 4 RAR, a light infantry battalion, into a Commando Regiment. On 01 February 1997 4 RAR was renamed as 4 RAR (Cdo) and commenced the development of Australia’s first regular Commando capability.
2nd Commando Regiment’s new regimental badge was created to reflect the history and traditions of Australian Commandos and the offensive nature of the unit. The centre feature of the badge is a silver Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, universally recognised as the symbol of a SF unit, and is backed by the blackened double diamonds, representative of the felt colour patches worn on Australian Commando uniforms of WWII. The regiment’s motto is included in a gold scroll ‘Foras Admonitio’, latin for ‘Without Warning’. The motto highlights not only the challenges of modern warfare, but the modus operandi of the 2nd Commando Regiment.
1.2 Women and the Commandos
In accordance with current Australian Government policy on the employment of women in the ADF, service in the Commandos is open to male and female volunteers. First announced in 2011, women could apply for frontline roles (e.g. Infantry) from 2013, and Commando and SASR roles from October 2015 (Henderson, 2013; Fox, 2015).
Other appointments also exist for males and females within SOCOMD such as support staff.
The aim of Commando training is to prepare ADF personnel for service within one of the two Commando Regiments of SOCOMD by developing the temperament, mental resolve, physical robustness and core military skills necessary in the demanding environment of expeditionary and littoral operations.
1.4 Commandos Training Ethos
Commando training is designed to test personal and team motivation to the point where actual operations present challenges that candidates will be able to overcome. The argument being that there is no point in suffering doubts at 0300 hours, in the silence of a tactical operation, after a helicopter or landing craft has dropped you off in or around enemy lines.
- A good level of stamina (preferably built over a period of time);
- Determination (mental fortitude to keep going despite being cold and fatigued);
- Excellent admin (personal administration in the field and in barracks); and
- A sense of humour is the key to Commando training.
Candidates are not expected to be superman; they just need the above to pass the course. Like most training courses in the ADF, Commando training has a policy of ‘train in’ rather than ‘select out’.
PART TWO: ENTRY STANDARDS AND APPLICATIONS
There are currently two methods of entry for service in the ADFs Commando regiments:
- Civilian entrants under the Special Forces Direct Recruitment Scheme; and
- Trained soldier transfers through the in-service transfer scheme.
2.1 Civilian Entrants
The only method of Direct Enlistment as a Commando in the Australian Army is through the Special Forces Direct Recruitment Scheme (Defence Jobs, 2015). Aspirants will be enlisted in the Infantry Corps. If a candidate is successful as a Special Forces Direct Recruitment Scheme General Entry Commando they will graduate from their Basic Military training, Infantry Initial Employment Training and Commando Initial Employment Training at the rank of private.
2.2 Age Range
Civilian entrants must be aged between 18 and 52 years inclusive (prior to August 2015 it was 19 to 30 years inclusive) on the day of enlistment or transfer.
Applicants outside of these limits may make an application to the Employment Category Sponsor, Commandant Special Forces Training Centre, for a waiver.
2.3 Citizenship and Security Requirements
Only Australian citizens are permitted to serve in the ADF. However, if the aspirant is a Permanent Resident of Australia, the ADF may consider a temporary waiver of the citizenship requirement if the position for which they are applying cannot be filled by an applicant who meets all the citizenship requirements, and then only in exceptional circumstances. Aspirants are required to obtain Australian citizenship as early as possible following enlistment or appointment.
The Department of Defence also requires ADF entrants to obtain a security clearance appropriate to their method of entry.
2.4 Aptitude Requirement
It is essential that aspirants have the ability to cope with the intellectual demands placed on them during pre-selection for the Commando Selection and Training Course. This requires aspirants to possess a high level of aptitude. To determine whether aspirants do or do not have the necessary aptitude, they will be required to undertake a series of aptitude tests.
2.5 Educational Requirement
Civilian entrants require completion of Australian Year 10 education (or equivalent) with passes in English and Mathematics or aspirants may be eligible to sit an Alternative Education Equivalency (AEE) assessment to ascertain their ability at the required educational level for this trade; view here for further information.
2.6 Medical and Fitness Requirements
Service as a Commando in Australia’s Special Forces is physically and mentally demanding and requires a high level of individual robustness, strength and endurance. Therefore, aspirants must be medically and physically fit and psychologically suitable to undertake SF selection and reinforcement training.
- Medical: medical fitness will be assessed by a doctor, prior to enlistment. This assessment will require aspirants to complete an extensive questionnaire covering their medical history and it will be followed by a comprehensive physical examination.
- Physical: aspirants will also be required to successfully pass a Special Forces Pre-Fitness Assessment (PFA) before enlistment. This PFA requires aspirants to achieve a higher standard than the general entry fitness level for the Army. Aspirants must be able to complete:
- Beep test (shuttle run or multi-stage fitness test) to level 10.1;
- 30 press-ups; and
- 60 sit-ups.
- The above PFA describes the minimum standard for enlistment as a potential Commando candidate. However, a much higher level of physical fitness will be required to successfully complete the Commando Selection and Training Course. The most suitable candidates for Commando training are those who regularly participate in arduous work, team or individual sports, individual or group fitness activities or outdoors adventurous pursuits.
- Psychological: prior to enlistment, aspirant’s psychological suitability will be assessed by a psychologist. This assessment will require aspirants to complete a series of questionnaires and a comprehensive interview.
2.7 Period of Service
Commando aspirants enlisting through the Special Forces Direct Recruitment Scheme as a Commando are required to serve for an initial minimum period of service of four years. However, they are not required to accept this until they have completed their Phase 1 initial training. At this point aspirants are required to accept an initial period of service of four years to be eligible to commence Infantry Phase 2 Initial Employment Training.
If an aspirant is unsuccessful in completing their initial training, they can seek ‘discharge at own request’ and are not required to complete the initial minimum period of service. However, if aspirants are unsuccessful at Infantry Initial Employment Training or any subsequent training after that, and choose to withdraw from the Scheme, or if they are found to be unsuitable for service in Special Forces, aspirants will be required to complete their initial minimum period of service within the general Army.
In this case, aspirants will also be given the opportunity to be employed as an infantry soldier or in another trade within the general Army. This will be negotiated on a case by case basis. This is designed to ensure the ADF recovers reasonable value from its investment in an individual’s training and development.
Applications to resign or transfer to the Reserves from personnel who have not completed their initial minimum period of service will not normally be approved unless compassionate or otherwise compelling personal reasons exist.
2.8 In-service Transfers
Serving members of the ADF interested in becoming a qualified-Commando, as a soldier or junior officer, need to be recommended for SF selection by their chain-of-command. Members should also discuss their interest with their respective career agencies prior to applying.
For more information about SF selection and training, contact the ADF School of Special Operations, contact details on the Defence Restricted Network (DRN) or through the chain-of-command. Serving members who are interested in joining either of the Commando Regiment’s in a support role should also contact their respective career agencies.
In order for trained ADF personnel to be eligible to apply for Commando training they must be qualified up to 343–2 rifleman standard (the 72-day Royal Australian Infantry Rifleman Infantry Operations Basic Course); applicants will not be allowed to undertake the Commando Selection and Training Course until they are qualified Infantrymen. Once the aspirant has begun to undertake training, if they fail any part of the selection course they will be subject to return to unit (RTU) procedure or if from outside of Royal Australian Infantry transferred to one of the battalions of the Royal Australian Regiment (provided Infantry Phase 2 Initial Employment Training has been completed). Reservists will return to their Reserve Units.
PART THREE: OUTLINE OF COMMANDO SELECTION AND TRAINING
This section outlines the process for individuals who wish to become Commandos in the Australian Army. Although the process has gone through a number of iterations since its inception, for most Commando aspirants there will be five stages to becoming Commando-trained:
- Stage 1: Army Recruit Course (80-days);
- Stage 2: Infantry Operations Basic Course (72-days);
- Stage 3: Special Forces Accelerated Infantry Training Programme (6-weeks);
- Stage 4: Commando Selection and Training Course (6-weeks); and
- Stage 5: Commando Initial Employment Training (11-months).
Figure 1 outlines the current Commando selection and training process as at August 2020.
Figure 1: Outline of Commando Selection and Training Process, August 2020
3.1 Australian Army Phase 1 Initial Military Training
Civilian entrants will be required to complete the standard basic recruit (Phase 1 initial military training) course at the Army Recruit Training Centre, Kapooka, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
This is a Commando aspirant’s basic military training and all personnel who enlist in the Australian Army are required to successfully complete it. This training will develop in aspirants the necessary skills and qualities to become an Australian Army soldier. It will also provide them with the knowledge and skills they require in order to be able to undertake their Phase 2 initial employment training.
On successful completion of Phase 1 initial training and before commencing Infantry Phase 2 initial employment training, aspirants will be required to commit to a four year initial minimum period of service.
If during training Commando aspirants are assessed as unsuitable to continue, or are temporarily unsuitable, they will not be permitted to continue with the scheme. In this case aspirants will be encouraged to undertake training for one of the critical support trades within the SF or in the general Army. If aspirants accept either of these options, they will be given another offer or, alternatively, aspirants may elect to ‘discharge at own request’.
If aspirants do accept an offer to serve in a critical support trade in SF or the general Army, they can apply again for Commando selection and training after they have completed 24-months of general service in the Army.
When aspirants have completed their Phase 1 initial training they will have reached the standard of a basic soldier. Aspirants will have developed the qualities and acquired the attitudes, skills and knowledge (ASK) which is necessary to progress further in the Army.
3.2 Infantry Phase 2 Initial Employment Training
Those Commando aspirants who successfully complete Phase 1 initial training will then attend the standard Royal Australian Infantry Initial Employment Training course delivered by the Australian Army’s School of Infantry located at Lone Pine Barracks, Singleton in New South Wales.
Regular Commando aspirants will attend the 72-day Royal Australian Infantry Rifleman Infantry Operations Basic (ECN 343-2) Course. Reserve Commando aspirants will conduct two modules of 16-days each conducted regionally. Module 1 is 16-days of continuous or non-continuous training, including weapon qualifications, equipment, First aid and fitness. Module 2 is 16-days of continuous training in field-craft and field exercises.
All aspirants will be trained and qualified in basic infantry tactics and a range of specialist infantry weapons and equipment.
Aspirants who are unable to successfully complete their Infantry training will not be permitted to continue with the scheme. In this case they will be encouraged to undertake training for one of the critical support trades within the SF or in the general Army. Aspirants can apply again for Commando selection and training after they have completed 24 months of general service in the Army.
3.3 Special Forces Accelerated Infantry Training Programme
Those Commando aspirants who successfully complete Phase 2 initial employment training will attend the 6-week Special Forces Accelerated Infantry Training Programme. This programme is delivered by the ADF School of Special Operations, based at Singleton in New South Wales, and is designed to prepare Commando aspirants for the Special Forces Entry Test and subsequent Commando training, as well as developing their tactical awareness.
This accelerated training will enhance an aspirant’s physiological and psychological conditioning and provides an opportunity for aspirants to apply the skills and knowledge developed during Phase 1 and 2 training. The programme will also provide aspirants with further training in navigation, communications, first aid, and field-craft, as well as additional skills and knowledge such as instinctive weapon handling.
During the programme aspirants will also commence the 15-week Commando Physical Training Package undertaken by SF aspirants already serving in the ADF.
3.4 Commando Physical Training Package
Both civilian entrants and in-service transfers are required to attend the 15-week Commando Physical Training Package.
To find out if all of the above training has successfully prepared aspirants for the Commando Selection and Training Course they must successfully pass the Special Forces Screen Test.
3.5 Special Forces Screen Test
Before commencing the Commando Selection and Training Course aspirants (both civilian entrants and in-service transfers) will be required to show that they are committed, motivated and capable of withstanding the severe physical and environmental stresses associated with the Commando Selection and Training Course. These will be assessed during the Special Forces Screen Test (SFST).
The SFST is conducted over approximately a 7-hour period and includes a range of physical assessments. There will also be a cognitive screening aspect to the test, which will involve an interview before a SF panel. Both of these activities are designed to determine an aspirant’s suitability to attend the Commando Selection and Training Course. To be assessed as suitable, aspirants must complete a fitness assessment involving:
- Press-ups (cadence);
- Heaves (cadence) ;
- Vertec (vertical leap);
- Flexibility Test;
- Sit-up Test;
- Beep Test (shuttle run or multi-stage fitness test);
- Agility Test;
- Yo Yo Intermittent Recovery Test;
- Pack March (5km carrying 40kg) ; and
- Swim Test (2 minutes of treading water before swimming 400m in Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniform (DPCU)) ;
There is no minimum standard during the SFST and individual aspirants will be measured against all other aspirants on the SFST. At the conclusion of the SFST, a Selection Advisory Committee will be convened to determine whether aspirants have the potential for service in SF and whether they are suitable to attend the Commando Selection and Training Course. The committee’s determination will be made on an aspirant’s performance at Phase 1 initial training, Phase 2 employment training, and the Accelerated Infantry Training programme and also on their results from the SFST.
Aspirants who do not pass the SFST and are not recommended by the Selection Advisory Committee will be encouraged to undertake training for critical support trades within SF or within the general Army.
In summary, this phase of an aspirants training will get them to a point where they are assessed as suitable to commence the Commando Selection and Training Course. It will take aspirants at least 27-weeks to reach this point, depending on the length of their initial training.
3.6 Commando Selection and Training Course
Having mastered basic Infantry skills during both Infantry training courses, the 6-week challenging and arduous Commando Selection and Training Course is designed, as its name suggests, as both a selection and training course.
A large part of this course is focused on the employment of the Commando in the field operational environment. Therefore, much of the course is conducted in the field. The course also requires Commando aspirants to participate in live-fire, field firing activities, conducted by night and day, using live ammunition, and a range of supporting weapons.
At the completion of this training, aspirants should be proficient in the basic Commando tactics at the team and platoon level, by day and by night, in the field operational environment.
Throughout this training aspirants’ will be assessed at the same standard as the other lateral in-service transfers wishing to serve as a Commando.
On successful completion of the Commando Selection and Training Course aspirants will commence Commando Initial Employment Training.
3.7 Commando Initial Employment Training
Commando Initial Employment Training, also known as the reinforcement cycle, consists of the following:
- Special Forces Weapons Course, including heavy weapons (3-weeks): the Heavy Weapons element of the course is designed to train and qualify Commando personnel in a suite of large calibre tripod and vehicle-mounted heavy machine guns that are integral weapon systems to the Commando Unit.
- ?Close Quarter Combat Course (1-week);
- Advanced Close Quarter Battle Course (4-weeks); this course is designed to train and qualify personnel in the employment of Commando individual weapon systems, and Commando team, section, and platoon tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) in an urban environment.
- Commando Urban Operations Course (6-weeks):
- Close Quarter Fighting Course (2-weeks):
- Advanced Marksmanship Course (?-weeks):
- Special Forces Demolitions Course (2-weeks): this course is designed to train and qualify personnel in the TTPs of SF demolition techniques, such as the preparation, carriage, placement and initiation of demolition charges.
- Special Forces Basic Parachute Course, including water insertion (3-weeks); this course is designed to qualify personnel as a paratrooper. It consists of two components. The first component is the standard basic parachute course that trains personnel to conduct parachute descents onto land, by day or night, carrying combat equipment. The second component trains and qualifies personnel to conduct parachute descents into water, by day or night, again carrying combat equipment, as part of a special operations amphibious activity. This is why personnel are asked if they are a volunteer for parachuting. If personnel enjoy this course, there are advanced parachute courses that involve jumping from higher altitudes and using advanced parachutes. These are available to personnel later in their career as a commando.
- Commando Vehicle Operators Course (4-weeks);
- Commando Amphibious Operators Course (3-weeks); this course is designed to train and qualify Commando personnel in the TTPs required for the conduct of amphibious operations. As Commando amphibious operations require personnel to operate in the ocean, sometimes over deep water, a considerable distance from the shore in small boats, and in some cases, in the surf zone, proficiency at amphibious operations is essential for all Commandos. Therefore, this course focuses on developing survivability in the amphibious environment by training personnel in maritime safety and the operation of all marine safety equipment. It also teaches assault swimming techniques (i.e. swimming with weapons and equipment). In addition, personnel will be trained in amphibious insertion and extraction methods, coastal navigation, and the operation and maintenance of the F470 Zodiac, which is a small inflatable boat. Commando amphibious operations are one of the key reasons that it is essential that personnel are a proficient swimmer.
- Special Forces Signals Course (3-weeks); communications are essential to Commando operations and, as a result, this course is designed to train personnel to operate secure tactical and operational radio-telephone communications equipment, integral to Special Forces.
- Special Forces Military Roping Course (2-weeks); as a Commando, personnel will be required to operate in a range of environments, including the requirement to operate in the vertical environment. This is true in both the field environment, such as cliffs, and in the urban environment including high-rise buildings. Therefore, this course trains personnel in the TTPs for negotiating vertical obstacles, both ascending and descending, in the field and urban operational environments. It also trains personnel in the TTPs for equipment haulage, and self and other person rescue. This course can also include training in airborne roping techniques depending on the availability of rotary wing aircraft, or this can be completed separately. Therefore, if personnel are thinking of applying for Commando they should not be afraid of working at height.
- Combat First Aiders Course (3-weeks): this course will train personnel in advanced first aid, including advanced resuscitation and casualty management skills, casualty evacuation procedures and preventive medicine principles.
- Commando Amphibious Operations Course: Students will parachute into water, assemble their inflatable boats before heading off on a practice mission (SLDinfo.com, 2018).
3.8 Reserve Forces Commando Training
ADF Reserve Commando aspirants are subject to the same selection and training regime as their Regular ADF counterparts.
3.9 End of Commando Training
On successful completion of their Commando Initial Employment Training aspirants will normally be posted to 2nd Commando Regiment and be recognised as a qualified Commando Grade One.
As of September 2014, total pay (60%) and allowances (40%; Service Allowance, Special Forces Disability Allowance and Uniform Allowance) at this stage gives a total salary of $3,987 per fortnight ($103,944 per year), although this does not include compulsory deductions for taxation, meals, accommodation, utilities (as applicable) or superannuation.
However, the successful completion of this stage of training is only the start. As a qualified Commando, wearing the Green Beret, personnel will be expected to undertake a range of further Commando specialist courses, which may include:
- Advanced Driving skills;
- Methods of Breaching;
- Mortar Operator;
- Cold Weather and/or Mountaineering Operator;
- Language training;
- Military Working Dog Handler; and
- Combat Survival.
PART FOUR: TRAINING AREAS AND UNITS
4.0 Army Recruit Training Centre
Information on the Army Recruit Training Centre and the training syllabus can be found here.
4.1 School of Infantry
The Australian Army’s School of Infantry is located at Lone Pine Barracks, Singleton in NSW, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).
During this period of training Commando aspirants will be trained and qualified in Infantry tactics, Infantry weapons and Infantry equipment.
4.2 ADF School of Special Operations
Information on the ADF School of Special Operations can be found here.
PART FIVE: MISCELLANEOUS
Service with the Australian Commandos is open to all male officers and other ranks of the ADF, and females from January 2016. Commando units seek to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with Commando forces. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for Commando training.
First aired in 2013, Commando is an Australian documentary that follows a small group of ordinary Australians who take part in one of the toughest military selection course’s in the world. A physically, and psychologically gruelling 6 weeks, designed to identify potential candidates for the 1st and 2nd Commando Regiments.
- Episode 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2sJ2yDJ06w
- Episode 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3J4Do77CDIU
- Episode 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM7mfkTlYfM
- Episode 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ka6kIAfx-JU
5.2 Useful Documents and Links
- Special Operations Capability (2014)
- ADF Special Forces Direct Recruitment Scheme (DFRT, 2004)
- Official Jobs website: http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/army/jobs/Commando/
- Australian Commando Association NSW: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Australian-Commando-Association-NSW-Inc/249959021766054
- 2nd Commando Regiment official website: http://2commando.gov.au/
- Defence Housing Australia, Lone Pine Barracks: https://www.dha.gov.au/housing/location-spotlights/SING
- Commando Welfare Trust: http://www.commandotrust.com/units.php
Davies, A., Jennings, P. & Schreer, B. (2014) A Versatile Force: The Future of Australia’s Special Operations Capability. Barton ACT, Australia: Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Defence Jobs (2015) Commando Entry: Other Ranks (Non Technical). Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/army/jobs/Commando/Entry/. [Accessed: 05 August, 2014].
SLDinfo.com. (2018) Commando Amphibious Operations Course. Available from World Wide Web: https://sldinfo.com/2018/11/commando-amphibious-operations-course/. [Accessed: 30 July, 2020].