The Australian Army
by Julio A. Montes

The Australian Army has supported the United Kingdom and the United States in several combat operations in the Asian Continent throughout history. Most recently, the Australian did not hesitate in supporting US and UK operations in Afghanistan and in Iraq


On March 18, 2003, the Australian government committed 2,000 soldiers to Iraq under Operation Falconer. Even before this announcement by Robert Hill, Defence Minister, Australia had dispatched several military units to the Middle East under Operation Bastille. Falconer was placed directly under the command of Brigadier General Maurie McNarn.

Initially, Falconer contained with 620 aircrews and air service elements, 70 of them were the elite combat air controller team. There were also 950 sailors and naval crews, and the Special Forces Task Group with 500 members of the Special Air Service Regiment, supported by a Clearance Diving Team, and elements of the Incident Response Regiment, a Reaction Force (comprising commandos of the 4RAR), a Combat Support Service Group, and CH-47 Chinook air crews (5th Aviation Regiment).


At home, the main maneuvering unit of the Army is the 1st Division, comprising two Infantry brigades of two battalions each, and one mechanized brigade with an armored regiment (7RAR), and a mechanized regiment (5RAR) and a parachute regiment (3RAR). These are supported by three Artillery regiments, the 1st Commando Regiment, an engineer regiment and an aviation regiment.

The 2nd and 3rd Divisions are mainly composed of reservists. This provides for a regular army of some 30,000 elements and 25,000 reserves, distributed in 10 brigades (7 reservists), adding 21 infantry battalions, a mechanized regiment, two medium artillery regiments (155mm - one regular and one reserves), six field artillery regiments (105mm), an air defense regiment with Rapier missile systems, three field engineer regiments, three construction engineer regiments, three reconnaissance regiments, a naval infantry regiment (4RAR) and two aviation regiments.

The nucleus of the regular Army is the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) with 6 battalions. The Australian Special Operations Forces are represented by the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), Pilbara Regional Force Reconnaissance Unit, the 1st Commando Regiment, the 4th RAR Commando, and the Australian Combat Diver Team. Parachute operations are tasked to the 3rd RAR. The SASR is based at Campbell Barracks, at Swanbourne, and it comprises the Regimental Headquarters Squadron (RHQ), Base Squadron, Operational Support Squadron, three Sabre Squadrons (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) and the 152 Signal Squadron. The organization of the Sabre Squadrons follows that of the British SAS: 64 men per squadron, divided into 16-man Troops and 4-man Patrols.

In case of war, the SASR, and the 1st Commando Regiment provide tactical and strategic special operations for the Army. Outside Australia, the SAS Regiment is commonly and informally referred as the ASAS, for Australian Special Air Service, and its operators are distinguished by the traditional Sand-color Beret (beige).

The elements of the 3RAR carry the distinctive Maroon Beret. Modern airborne unit operations in Australia have their origins in 1974, when the Army took over Her Majesty’s Air Station at Albatross, and transformed the installations into the heart of the new parachute units of the Royal Australian Regiment. Company D, 6RAR, was designated as the first parachute unit; this was followed in 1973 with the 3RAR being designated as the parachute unit of the Army. The 3RAR was then Holsworthy Barracks, close to Sydney. In 1986 the government established the Parachute Training Centre at Albatross.

Elements of the 4RAR Commando carry the traditional Green Beret due to their affinity to the British Royal Marines. The 4RAR provides for four amphibious commando companies. A commando must complete basic and infantry training; then attends a selection process, to continue with the jump and riverine operations training. Then, a candidate must specialize in diving, climbing, demolition, and hand-to-hand combat before graduating and being allowed to wear the Green Beret.


1st Commando of Sydney’s Own Regiment was established as part of the Citizen Military Force (reserves) in 1957. Giving its nature, the unit was-and remains-in very close association with the Australian Special Air Service. ASAS operators usually transfer to the 1st Commando upon termination of their regular Army tour.

On February 1st, 1980, the unit changed its name to the 1st Commando Regiment and, together with the SASR, forms the Special Action Force of Australia. Both units are specialized in mountain and riverine warfare. The 1st Commando was originally organized with two companies (one at Sidney and one at Williamstown) and one 126 Signal Squadron (Watsonia). Today, the regiment comprises a Regimental HQ, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Commando Squadrons and the 126th Signal Squadron.

Antiterrorist tasks fall under the auspices of the TAG, or Tactical Assault Group. This 200-men unit is actually part of the SASR, and it consists of one SAS Squadron in its third year of rotation. The TAG is in charge of antiterrorist operations on land while the Offshore Assault Group (OAG) is tasked with antiterrorist operations along coastal installations and the sea.


In the 1950s, the Army adopted the FN FAL as its standard combat rifle, and the FN MAG 58 as the standard machine gun. Those troops deployed to Vietnam also carried the M16A1 and the M60 GPMG. After Vietnam, the ASAS continued to favor the M16.

However, the FAL has been declared obsolete and replaced with a new rifle. The standard issued rifle today is the F-88 in 5.56 mm. This is no other than the Armee Universal Gewehr (AUG - for short), designed by Steyr Mannlicher AG of Austria, and made under local license in Australia. The weapon is also known as the SturmGewehr 77 by the Austrian Army, and F88 Austeyr by the Australian counterpart. This rifle weights 7.15 pounds, empty. Its outer shell is made of high quality plastic, with an ergonomic design in a “bullpup” configuration. There are 30- and 40-round magazines, which are made of transparent plastic, allowing a quick check of the number of rounds left in the magazine. The AUG A2 has been modified to allow other types of sights and accessories common to NATO to be mounted, and the Australians have taken several of them into service.

Another advantage of the AUG concept is that it basically consists of a weapon system which simplifies maintenance, logistics and training. A simple change of accessories can convert the standard rifle to a 9mm submachine gun. A barrel change can transform the standard rifle (with a barrel of 508mm) to a short rifle (with a 350mm barrel), a Carbine (407mm barrel), or a light machine gun (621mm barrel with bipod). The bullpup design makes the AUG very compact and ideal for mounted or helicopter operations.

Those forces deployed to Iraq and to Afghanistan carried the M4A1 Carbine instead of the F88 while their Perentie vehicles bristled with FN MAG 58 and M2HB machine guns, and on occasions with automatic grenade launchers. The Army makes use of the F89 (heavy barrel AUG), and some M249 Minimi squad automatics have been adopted. There is a great variety of precision rifles available, including the 7.62x51mm Galil, HK-PSG1, Parker Hale 82,Tikka F.223, and AI AW-F.

The SASR, and the army in general, have made considerable use of the Nissan Patrol 4x4 for liaison and general motorized patrols, with the Mercedes Unimog as the standard tactical truck. In 1994, the army ordered 268 Perentie vehicles from British Aerospace Australia Limited.

The Perentie is basically the Australian version of the British SAS Land Rover. There are, however, several features that make the Perentie unique. The original Perentie is similar to the British 4x4 vehicle, but mounts an Isuzu 3.9 liter, 4-cylinder diesel engine and a new 4-speed transmission. The latest Perentie variant is equipped with 750R16LT 10-ply tires, is 6x6, and carries an Isuzu 3.9 liter, 4 cylinder, and turbocharged diesel engine. There is provision for radio, additional fuel and ammunition in the vehicle. Two spare tires are carried and recessed in the middle of the vehicle; there is a roll-cage and provision to carry a 250cc motorcycle on a mount in the rear bulkhead. There are several mounts for armament, including a pedestal for either a heavy machine gun, automatic grenade launcher or a light low-recoil cannon.

The iron fist of the army is represented by 71 Leopard 1A3 MBTs, and 354 improved M113 (with 119 in storage). In 1974, Australia ordered 90 MBTs under the designation of Leopard AS1, plus 8 ARV and 5 AVLB variants. The AS1 sported the typical turret of the Leopard 1A3, and carried the SABCA fire control system. The Leopards arrived between 1976 and 1978, replacing the elderly Centurion MBTs of the 1RAR. The AS1 were overhauled between 1992 and 1994, incorporating the 100 EDGA (Electronic Digital Gunnery Aids).

Australia acquired a fleet of 771 M113A1 APCs, most of them with the one-man Cadillac Gage T-50 turret. The turret carries a 7.62x51mm and a 12.7mm machine gun, along with 2,000 rounds of 7.62x51mm and 3,000 of 12.7mm. The Army retains some 473 M113 in service. They have been improved with internal protection and comforts. The military also modernized 355 T-50 turrets, providing them with day/night sights.

The Australians have modified several M113 into unique models; there were 18 FSV (Saladin) units, for instance, modified with the turret of the Saladin combat armored car. These were replaced with 45 M113 MRV (Medium Reconnaissance Vehicle) equipped with the turret from the Scorpion light tank.

In 1995, the Australian tested one prototype of the M113 M40A1. This consisted of a M113 modified to carry the M40A1 106mm RCL mounted on the right side and immediately behind the commander’s cupola. The rear hatch was modified to open in two halves sideways to provide for armored protection to the crew of the M40A1. Minor internal modifications were made to allow the gun crew to remain standing up while operating the M40A1 and for 16 106mm rounds to be carried. The M113A1 has not been adopted into service, but could serve as a example for those countries operating both systems, and lacking more modern and more expensive antitank missiles such as the TOW.

The first 15 LAV-25 were supplied to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. By 1996, the government had ordered 111 vehicles, including 33 8x8 MOGAW Piranhas LAV-25 (ASLAV-25), 33 Bison APC (ASLAV-PC), 9 Command & Control (ASLAV-C), 10 Recovery (ASLAV-F), 10 reconnaissance (ASLAV-S), and 2 ambulances (ASLAV-A). The ASLAV-25 carries a 25mm cannon and it’s similar to the USMC LAV. The ASLAV is of exclusive use of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment based at New South Wales, close to Darwin; there are a few examples in use at the Armor Training Center and the Royal Logistics, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Training Establishment. The ASLAV will be complemented with 400 Bushmasters, which use the same mechanical parts of the Unimog truck.

The medium artillery regiments are equipped with 35 M198 155mm howitzers while the field artillery counts with the some 246 M2A2 and M118 105mm pieces. The infantry receives support from 296 81mm mortars, and antitank work is entrusted to 577 84mm Carl Gustav rocket launchers, and 74 M40A1 106mm RCLs. Air defense depends on 19 Rapier firing units and 17 RBS-70, while Army aviation lists 35 S-70, 38 Bell 206, 25 UH-1H, 17 AS-350B and 6 CH-47D.


On April 17, 2003, the government announced the return from the Middle East of HMA ANZAC and HMA DARWIN, and in June HMA KANIMBLA was scheduled to return. The announcement also indicated the return of the SAS Squadron, the Support Services Group, and the Combat Diving Team.

The Australians left in Iraq a group of 60 combat air controllers at Baghdad International Airport, and a 75-element Security Detail comprising 3 ASLAV and crews from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Darwin), and 35 men of the 2RAR (Townsville), with elements of the 3rd Brigade (Townsville) and the 1st MP battalion (Brisbane) providing communications and logistical support.

This author acknowledges the assistance of Brian A. Humphreys, and the Public Relations Office of the Australian MoD, for this article.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V7N7 (April 2004)
and was posted online on August 30, 2013


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