The Australian Defence Forces’ (ADF’s) School of Special Operations, formerly the Special Forces Training Centre, is operated by the Australian Army’s Special Operations Command (SOCOMD) at Holsworthy Barracks in Singleton, New South Wales.
The school recruits, screens and trains selected personnel for service with the Australian Army’s Commandos and the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), in addition to managing doctrine development, marketing, training support and validation and specialist capability development.
As such, the school is considered central to ensuring that Australia’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) is fit for purpose, now and in the future.
Since inception in 1997, the Special Forces Training Centre (SFTC) has enabled the force generation of ADFs contemporary and highly successful operators of SOCOMD.
SFTC was raised in 1999 as a Training Command unit to support, validate and develop Special Forces (SF) training. However, it has since grown significantly from these origins to now manage a broad range of training and training support tasks on behalf of Special Operations Headquarters.
In 2004 SFTC became a fully fledged SF unit transitioning from Training Command to SOCOMD.
On 24 July 2007 a brand new purpose built SFTC, valued at $94 million, was opened at Holsworthy Barracks by the Governor-General (DOD, 2007). The new facilities provide indoor and outdoor multi-level electronic and live firing ranges, as well as a variety of training environments for Commando units. The facilities are also used to train for counter-terrorism scenarios and other specific SF roles.
The Holsworthy facility, along with a facility at Perth and two in the United States are the only four of their kind in the world.
The SFTC was responsible for the delivery of more than 30 courses per year including the conduct of all Special Forces Support Staff Tactical Integration training and the Commando Reinforcement Cycle.
On 01 September 2017, the SFTC was renamed the Special Operations Training and Education Centre (SOTEC).
On 19 November 2019, the SOCOMD training units were reorganised with SOTEC renamed as the Australian Defence Force School of Special Operations and placed under the command of the newly raised Defence Special Operations Training and Education Centre (DSOTEC).
As the SFTC, the role of the school was to conduct individual (both Commando and SASR) SF recruitment, selection, training and education to meet force generation, trade and professional development requirements for SOCOMD to enable continuous elite military capabilities.
As the School of Special Operations, as part of DSOTEC, its is responsible for the recruitment, selection, training, education and trade management of all SOCOMD personnel.
The school is one of several organisations under the umbrella of SOCOMD, commanded by a Brigadier (OF-6). The day-to-day operations of the School are the remit of the Commanding Officer, a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). Below are some other key personalities:
- Officer Commanding the Development Group (OF-3, Major).
- Senior Instructor, Commando Training Courses (OF-2, Captain).
- Training Standards and Compliance Officer.
All SFTC instructors are individually selected on their SF experience, supervisor qualifications and are provided additional development training to ensure that the SFTC training methodology reflects that of a contemporary, agile and reality based organisation.
SFTC conducts individual training by managing in excess of thirty five courses throughout a calendar year for SOCOMD and in support of wider Australian Defence Force units.
Students are trained in the core skill sets required to perform specialised tasks as an SF operator or as SF Support Staff.
SFTC courses vary in duration from one to eight weeks, with course content often intensive and critical to the operational capability of SOCOMD.
Examples of courses include:
- Special Forces Accelerated Infantry Training Programme;
- Special Forces Screen Test (must be completed by aspirants for both Commando and SASR selection);
- Commando Selection and Training Course;
- Commando Initial Employment Training (this is a series of courses);
- SASR Selection and Training Course; and
- SASR Initial Employment Training (this is a series of courses).
- Australian Special Operations Course:
- The first Australian Special Operations Course (ASOC) was conducted in early 2017.
- The 12 day course is open to all Australian Defence Force personnel and personnel from other Australian Government agencies to provide an insight into special operations.
- The first phase is theory-based and the second phase practical-based.
The school provides the centralised coordination of the selection and training of personnel of SOCOMD. The centre is planned to be fully operational by January 2021 and will include a new detachment in Perth.
The school is to be founded on four pillars of excellence, being:
- Martial and force projection skills.
- Political/strategic/foreign relations acumen.
- Military and operational excellence.
- Ethical, cultural, social and emotional intelligence acumen.
Quality personnel form the bedrock of Australia’s Special Operations capability. As such, the task of attracting, selecting and training physically and mentally robust individuals to provide the next generation of SF operators is an essential precursor to the delivery of this collective capability to the battlefield.
Therefore, as part of the selection process, trainees are assessed on their:
- Cognitive ability to assimilate information (i.e. trainability);
- Physical and mental resolve;
- Ability to operate within a small dynamic team; and
- Ability to consistently demonstrate sound levels of judgement, adaptability and self discipline during complex tasks.
Although physical toughness is an important attribute, it is only one of a myriad of components that SF operators must possess. Judgement, decisiveness, mental dexterity, leadership, innovation and humility are all core elements required by SF officers and other ranks alike. These attributes will be thoroughly exposed, observed, reviewed and assessed to ensure each individual that is selected for service within the SF community can meet the high standards that are expected of them.
The school does not only conduct training at Holwsworthy but also a number of other sites, which are typically classified. As such, the Department of Defence does not discuss what goes on at Swan Island, Victoria, and information on the facility is not found on any government website. It is believed that SF carry out counter terrorism training here on a base shared with Australia’s Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).
5.0 Unit Emblem
The unit’s badge comprises both Commando Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife and SASR sword overlaying the flame of Gideon, representing the intense heat of the selection process. In the background is the double diamond representing Australia’s World War II Special Forces origins.
6.1 Useful Links
- 2007: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouxVAdGJ0pw
- Commando Welfare Trust: http://www.commandotrust.com/units.php
DOD (Department of Defence) (2007) Special Forces Training Facility Opens at Holsworthy. Available from World Wide Web: http://defence.gov.au/media/download/2007/jul/20070724/index.htm. [Accessed: 28 September, 2014].