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Tactical Assault Group (Australia)

Tactical Assault Group (TAG), of the

  Special Air Service Regiment (SASR)

Headquarters: Perth suburb of Swanbourne, Australia

The Australian SAS was formed in 1957 with the creation of the 1st SAS Company. By 1964, an additional two companies had been added and the Company was renamed the Special Air Service Regiment. The SASR saw action in Borneo just a year later where it found itself engaged in a widespread counterinsurgency campaign. Not long after, Regiment members were sent to Vietnam (although records indicate some may have been present as early as 1962) to aid in training the Australian Army. By the time the Vietnam War was over, the Regiment had racked up an impressive combat record and established itself as a significant player in the special operations arena. Peacetime led to a reduction from three Sabre Squadrons to two, not including a new Training Squadron and an Operations Research Unit. During this time, special attention was given to countering the increasingly visible international terrorist incidents which were occurring with regularity.

Today, this group is one of two units responsible for counter terrorism in Australia, the other being the very capable No. 1 Commando Regiment, which is part of the Army reserves. A requirement of further specialization within the SASR led to the formation of the Tactical Assault Group (TAG). The TAG, formed in the mid-1980s, shared these responsibilities for a time with its brother unit, the Offshore Installations Assault Group (OAG). which handled maritime operations such as assaults on ships or oil rigs. This latter unit was disbanded, however there are reports that an offshoot of the original OAG remains, designated the OAT, or the Offshore Assault Team. Initially, twenty divers from the RAN Clearance Diving Teams switched branches to the SASR to help man the new unit. OAT, as the name suggests, is rumoured to specialize in maritime assaults; including ships, ferries, and oil rigs. OAT is considered a separate but equal element of TAG.

TAG/OAT operators are HALO/HAHO qualified, and are proficient at heliborne insertions as well. As "B" squadron of the SASR, members of TAG undergo the same selection and training that members of the "regular" SASR. The selection phase is three weeks long, those that pass undergo nearly a year of training before they can wear the coveted sand-collared beret. TAG's training facilities include advanced outdoor close quarters battle ranges, an urban CT complex, aircraft mock-ups, and snipers ranges. The SASR also makes use of the dry savannah woodland of the High Range Training Area. This range is located approximately 40 kilometres west of Townsville and is used extensively for counter terrorist training. There are currently 550 (approximately 200 in TAG) members of the SASR which is headquartered at Campbell Barracks in the Perth suburb of Swanbourne, Australia. Assault teams are composed of four men.

Cross-training with other countries is not uncommon; Australian officers are permanently assigned to both Fort Bragg and Little Creek, NAB. They also have a close relationship with the British SAS which has been shared since 1957. Cross training has also occurred with the New Zealand SAS, Germany's GSG-9 and others. It is not believed that the SASR is used in covert operations abroad, due to a general governmental reluctance to conduct such operations.

There are no Australian SASR operations on record, due to the lack of terrorist activity in that nation. However, in the worst Australian peacetime military disaster, 15 SASR troopers SASR were killed and five injured in the crash of two Blackhawk helicopters near Townsville in1996.

The Blackhawks from 5 Aviation Regiment were participating in a six-ship counter terrorist exercise (code named Day Rota) when two helicopters collided while flying at between 90 and 100 knots approximately 30 meters off the ground. The SASR members had opened the doors of the aircraft and were preparing to exit via fast-rope when the main rotor blade struck the tail rotor of the lead. The helo plummeted to the ground and burst into flames.

The second helo crashed moments later killing five, but most of the crew managed to escape before it too exploded. The remaining Blackhawk were used to medivac the injured troopers to nearby Townsville General Hospital. Prior to this incident, the SAS had lost a total of 17 operators since the unit's inception n 1957. Six were killed in action in Vietnam and three during operations in Borneo.

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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces