Special Air Service Regiment (SASR), also called Special Air Service (SAS), Australian special forces unit that exists within Australia’s Special Operations Command. The unit was formed in July 1957 as the first Special Air Service Company, Royal Australian Infantry, and it was modelled on the British Special Air Service.
The SAS Company consisted of a headquarters and four platoons comprising about 200 all ranks by the time haunted it became part of The Royal Australian Regiment in 1960.
The Company was expanded to a Regiment and renamed The Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) on 4 September 1964. This date was significant as it marked the 21st anniversary of the Lae-Nadzab operation in New Guinea during World War II, the first Australian combined land, sea and airborne operation.
Their sandy-coloured beret readily identifies members of the regiment who are SAS qualified and its distinctive badge depicting the flaming sword Excalibur and the words ‘Who Dares Wins’.
The existence of SASR Squadron 4, raised in 2005 to serve as a full-time clandestine military intelligence force, is not publicly acknowledged by the Australian government.
The strength of the SASR is over 700 personnel; each squadron is approximately 90 strong and is divided into three troops (Water Troop, Free-Fall Troop and Vehicle Mounted Troop).
The SASR has high personnel standards, and selection into the regiment is considered the most demanding of any entry test in the Australian Army. Successful candidates then continue on to the 21-day SAS Selection Course, which assesses both the individual’s strength and endurance (mental and physical), as well as overall fitness, ability to remain calm in combat and to work effectively in small teams. All members of the SASR are parachute qualified, and each member of a patrol has at least one specialisation, including medic, signaller, explosive expert or linguist.
The SASR maintains close links with special forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand and Canada, regularly participating in joint exercises and individual personnel exchange programs with the British SAS and SBS, as well as the New Zealand SAS, U.S. Navy SEALs, Germany’s GSG 9 and the United States Special Forces.
The SAS acts as a force multiplier, enabling our key agencies to complete tasks they would be unable to do alone. With state-of-the-art facilities opened at Swanbourne, Western Australia, in 2018, the most robust recruitment and training regime in the Australian Defence Force and a location on the Indian Ocean adjacent to and in similar time zones as key regional players, the regiment is well-placed to expand this role in the future.
Special operations warfare is unconventional military actions against enemy vulnerabilities undertaken by specially designated, selected, trained, equipped, and supported units known as special forces or special operations forces (SOF). Special operations are often conducted in conjunction with conventional military operations as part of a sustained politico-military campaign. Some special operations are spectacular direct raids that capture wide publicity, but others are long-term indirect efforts that are never made known. No matter what form it takes, each special operation is an effort to resolve, as economically as possible, specific problems at the operational or strategic level that are difficult or impossible to address with conventional forces alone.
SASR units often cross-train with other elite counterterrorism forces, including the British SAS, U.S. Navy SEAL, and Germany’s GSG 9. They worked alongside U.S. forces in Somalia in the 1990s as well as during the Persian Gulf War (1990–91) and the Afghanistan War (2001–2021). The SASR was one of the first allied forces to have soldiers in Afghanistan, fielding up to 1,100 personnel in the first six months of Operation Enduring Freedom. Since its inception, the SASR has maintained a close relationship with the British SAS, and the two forces have engaged in various joint operations, including in Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
Its first mission, in February 1965, was to quell insurgencies on Borneo. The SASR fought in the Vietnam War (1954–75), where its members earned the nickname ma rung (“phantoms of the jungle”) for their stealthy manoeuvres. Since Vietnam, the SASR has assumed dual roles: “green” operations, which encompass army special operations responsibilities, and “black” operations, or counterterrorist actions.
From 1966 SASR squadrons rotated through Vietnam on year-long deployments, with each of the three Sabre Squadrons completing two tours before the last squadron was withdrawn in 1971. Missions included medium-range reconnaissance patrols, observation of enemy troop movements, and long-range offensive operations and ambushing in the enemy dominated territory.
In July 1997, an eight-man SASR team deployed at short notice to Butterworth in Malaysia to provide close protection and communications to the Australian ambassador and embassy staff in Cambodia if required, in preparation for the evacuation of Australian nationals in the wake of civil unrest which occurred following a coup in that country.
In 1998, the SASR made its first squadron-strength deployment since Vietnam when 1 Squadron, with an attached New Zealand SAS troop, was deployed to Kuwait in February as part of the American-led Operation Desert Thunder. The force, known as Anzac Special Operations Force (ANZAC SOF), was fully integrated, with the New Zealanders providing the squadron’s third troop.
The SASR played a key role in the Australian-led international peacekeeping force (INTERFET) in East Timor between September 1999 and February 2000.
In October 2001, the Australian government announced that it was sending a special forces task group built around an SASR squadron to participate in the campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan designated Operation Slipper. After arriving at FOB Rhino, the SASR initially operated in southern Afghanistan with US Marines from Task Force 58, conducting long-range vehicle-mounted patrols over several hundred kilometres around Kandahar and into the Helmand Valley near the Iranian border.
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