The Tactical Response Team (TRT) stands as Australian law enforcement’s premier elite unit. Frequently drawing personnel from former special forces, TRT members receive training for urban, rural, and maritime environments. The TRT operates under the Australian Federal Police (AFP), granting them the ability to safeguard Australian interests both domestically and abroad.
The Tactical Response Team mission responds to armed offenders, terrorists, organised crime groups and instability overseas. Additionally, TRT performs high-risk arrests, the execution of search warrants, tactical support to investigative operations, and training of regional forces. TRT are specialists in a variety of combat capabilities such as advanced weapons handling, CQB and maritime operations, enabling the unit to take on any threat that comes its way.
2.0 Context, History and Symbols
2.1.1 Australia’s Regional Security
Since the end of World War II, the US has dominated the defence landscape in Indo-Pacific Asia (Source). Australia has long maintained a close relationship with the US through agreements such as the ANZUS, the Quad, Five Eyes and most recently AUKUS (Source). The US’ influence over the region and Australia’s geographic location has meant Australia has enjoyed a high degree of safety. Without a serious threat from foreign militaries. Australia has only led peacekeeping missions or voluntarily entered conflicts on the side of Western allies since the Cold War (Source).
However, Australia is contesting the growing presence of Chinese influence in the region. As outlined in the Defence Strategic Review 2023, Australia must defend its economic interests and its relationships with its regional neighbours. Australia’s priority is to not allow instability domestically or overseas to create opportunity for adversaries (Source).
“This is how Australia contributes to the strategic balance of power that keeps the peace in our region, making it harder for countries to be coerced against their interests.” – Defence Strategic Review 2023 (Source).
Australian territories include various islands to the mainland’s North West and East. The largest being Christmas and Norfolk Islands. As well as an Antarctic territory (Source). Antarctica has increasingly become an area of strategic interest for world powers, including China (Source).
2.1.2 Terrorism in Australia
Terrorism in Australia is uncommon, Australia currently sits at 69th on the global terrorism index (Source). From 2014 Australia has suffered 29 religiously motivated attacks. These acts coincided with a global rise in attacks related to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The majority of these attacks were carried out using incendiary and melee weapons. Firearm related attacks are rare (Source).
The Australian Federal Police outlined in 2023 that small groups and self-radicalised lone wolf actors are an ongoing threat. These individuals are not necessarily Islamic extremists, but other ideologically motivated violent extremists. COVID-19 lockdowns led to a higher level of consumption of extremist propaganda and material (Source). This is likely because individuals spent more time online making the information space a prime target for extremist actors (Source).
2.1.3 Organised Crime in Australia
The Australian Federal Police set transnational serious organised crime (TSOC) as their main focus in the 2023 criminal threat picture report. At least 70% of Australia’s TSOC threats are likely based offshore or have strong offshore links (Source). TSOC is a major propagator of violence in Australia with various factions fighting for influence (Source). Serious and organised crime is estimated to have cost the Australian economy $60.1 Billion AUD ($38.9 Billion USD) from 2020-21(Source).
The drug trade is the most pervasive market for organised criminals. Cannabis is the most widely used drug in Australia, the majority of which is cultivated domestically. Methamphetamine has seen the largest increase in usage within the last year (Source). Southeast Asia has seen extreme volumes of the drug being produced and trafficked in the region in recent years (Source). Australian organised crime groups are heavily involved in these processes. Most of the synthetic drugs in the Australian market originate from the Golden Triangle and South China (Source).
Australia has the highest prevalence of cocaine usage globally, peaking in 2020 (Source). Usage rose by 68% between 2016 and 2019 (Source). The cost of cocaine in Australia is the third highest in the world at $263 per gram (Source), likely due to the challenges of getting it into the country (Source).
The ‘Ndrangheta are the most prominent actors in Australia’s organised crime landscape (Source). There are 14 confirmed ‘Ndrangheta clans operating across Australia with thousands of members (Source). There are many other organised crime groups that currently operate in Australia. They include Middle Eastern organisations, Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs and Latin American Cartels.
2.2.1 Before the Tactical Response Team
For sixty years, Australia has maintained elite federal tactical intervention units in various forms. Initially, under the Commonwealth Police in 1964, they created the Armed Offenders Squad as the primary unit for high-risk situations. After the Sydney Hilton Hotel Bombing in 1978, they formed the Counter-Terrorist Operations Section using members from the Australian Army’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) (Source).
Upon the establishment of the Australian Federal Police, they formed the Special Operations Team (SOT) in 1983. This unit underwent close training collaboration with the SASR (Source). After the events of 9/11, the unit underwent significant transformation to adapt to the evolving terror threat landscape. In 2002, they created the Specialist Response and Security Team (SRS) (Source).
In 2005, under the International Deployment Group, the Operational Response Group (ORG) came into existence to fulfill the AFP’s overseas requirements (Source).
The year 2012 marked the merger of both the SRS and ORG into the Specialist Response Group (SRG). By 2015, the National Canine Program and Air Security Officer Program became part of the SRG. The SRG was established as a comprehensive solution for mutually supportive policing capabilities (Source). In the AFP’s ACT Policing Annual Report 2019-20, the SRG underwent a name change to Specialist Protective Services (Source). Subsequently, the name was further adjusted to Specialist Protective Command (SPC).
2.2.2 Official Acknowledgment
The Tactical Response Team’s existence was officially acknowledged by the Australian Federal Police on the 7th of March, 2023 (Source).
The TRT had been seen conducting various operations before their acknowledgment. But they were generally referred to as SRG operators (Source) (Source). Without many clear markings or patches the unit could be mistaken for another forces’ Police Tactical Group (PTG).
The unit has also been vaguely referred to before acknowledgment in some AFP documents (Source).
The first press appearance they made in a somewhat official capacity was their feature in FLASHBANG magazine’s 2019 Winter Edition (Source). In the issue, the unit’s background, equipment and identifiers were outlined.
The AFP has not disclosed how long the Tactical Response Team has been operational for. But the earliest images of operators wearing the unit’s insignia have been documented as early as 2017 (Source) (Source).
The Tactical Response Team is based in Canberra, Australia’s capital territory (Source). It is not currently known how many members operate in the TRT.
The Tactical Response Team insignia depicts a dragon and delta triangle behind it. The dragon is a mythical creature that symbolises power, strength and good luck. The delta triangle represents strength. The three sides of the triangle also symbolise the unit’s three deployment model: International, National and Domestic (Source).
Pictured below are two variations of it.
Right shows a variant of the insignia being worn by a TRT operator (Source).
Tactical Response Team operators typically sport the AFP badge, which features subdued patches in grey and black, or tan and bronze. It depicts the British monarchy’s crown, the seven-point commonwealth star, a wreath that symbolises victory and the commonwealth coat of arms (Source).
Operators have also been seen wearing a patch above either the badge or insignia reading “AFP Tactical Response”.
“They focus on counter-terrorism, high-risk arrests, hostage rescues, and incidents involving armed offenders.” – Ex-Australian Federal Police Member
The Tactical Response Team’s mission is to respond to the most dangerous threats Australian law enforcement faces. TRT operators are on standby to respond to a variety of threats (Source). This includes counter-terrorism, response to armed offenders, and hostage situations. The Tactical Response Team also participates in planned operations to support high-risk arrests, search warrants and investigations (Source) (Source). Overseas operations including stability missions and training of local police forces are also within the unit’s remit (Source).
“The AFP TRT does deploy Internationally. The AFP TRT collaborates with indigenous law enforcement units in the Pacific region to restore order during civil unrest.”Ex-Australian Federal Police Member
4.0 Role In National Security, Selection and Training
4.1 Role in National Security
The TRT functions as one of Australia’s Police Tactical Groups (PTG). Each of Australia’s police forces maintains a PTG to deal with armed offenders, hostage situations and terrorists (Source). Standardisation of PTGs began after the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel Bombing (Source).
Each police force has a different name for its PTG. Notable units include New South Wales’ Tactical Operations Unit (TOU) and Victoria’s Special Operations Group (SOG).
The Tactical Response Team is the AFP’s PTG, operating under Specialist Protective Command. Consequently, TRT is the most elite unit Australian law enforcement has to offer. “There is nothing beyond this team” – AFP Superintendent Phillippa Connell (Source). The Tactical Response Team is the only PTG with nationwide domestic and overseas jurisdiction (Source).
The Australian Army also maintains a counter-terrorism and hostage rescue unit called the Tactical Assault Group (TAG). TAG is divided into West and East units. West draws on members from the Special Air Service Regiment. East draws on members from the 2nd Commando Regiment and the Royal Australian Navy’s Clearance Diving teams. TAG also operates domestically and overseas (Source).
TAG’s mission does appear similar to the TRT’s. However, TRT operations revolve around law enforcement-related activities. Whereas TAG’s known operations have mostly revolved around large event security and VBSS (Source). The units likely have different rules of engagement too. Australian defence and police elements often work together during overseas operations.
4.3 Selection and Training
“All members undergo strict vetting when joining and the unit has a high recruitment number of ex-army special forces.” – Ex-Australian Federal Police Member.
In order to become a TRT operator, candidates must have a minimum of 2 years experience as either an AFP Police officer or a Protective Service officer (Source). The latter are required to complete an AFP transition course to become a Police officer prior to joining the TRT (Source).
Police officers from other forces can join after 3 years of service having not been out of the role for more than 5 years. Those officers must also have served in their state Police Tactical Group or hold a Diploma in Public Safety (Source).
Candidates then start a pre-selection phase where they are provided with a physical fitness programme and mentor from the unit (Source).
Candidates have to demonstrate a high level of fitness by completing the following exercises (Source):
- Perform 3 cadence chin-ups while wearing a 17 kg vest
- Lift and carry an 80 kg dummy a minimum distance of 80 m, while wearing a 17 kg vest
- Run up 3 flights of stairs wearing full operational equipment
- Perform a 30 m leopard crawl wearing full operational equipment
- Tread water for 10 mins while wearing overalls and shoes, followed by a 400 m swim in 13 minutes
- Undertake a 10 km pack march carrying 25 kg plus water and a rifle.
Once complete, candidates proceed to selection proper where they must meet the physical and psychological standards of the unit. The psychological component of this stage requires them to take a series of assessments and a face-to-face interview with a psychologist who will determine their readiness (Source).
If successful, candidates then take part in a “live in” selection process. The AFP TRT Police Tactical Group Program is then the final stage of selection (Source).
All members of the TRT will become Police Tactical Group qualified, and trained to operate in urban, rural and marine environments (Source).
Tactical Response Team operators are also trained in (Source):
- Advanced driving
- Chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear (CBRN) threat response
- Close-quarters tactics
- Maritime operations
- Specialist firearms and weapons
- Tactical medic
- Sophisticated command and control systems and other technologies
- How to respond when political stability or security is threatened
Members will then be chosen after the 14-month training and selection process is complete (Source).
4.3.3 Further Training
Even after completing selection, TRT operators engage in continuous advanced training to ensure they are ready for deployment at any time (Source).
The AFP places a strong emphasis on enabling the Tactical Response Team to achieve peak performance. Operators receive support from “human performance coaches” who monitor their progress using a dedicated app. They also have access to dieticians, physiotherapists and psychologists (Source).
Every TRT operator must continuously maintain their counter-terrorism skills, regardless of their role. The unit conducts weekly counter-terrorism exercises to remain prepared for contingencies (Source).
TRT teams also dedicate time to training and developing various specialisations, ensuring their readiness for any deployed situation.
- CBRN specialist
- Dynamic breacher
- Less Than Lethal
- Maritime Capabilities
- Rural and Tracking Capabilities
- Specialist Weapons
- Tactical driver
- Tactical K9
- Technician (robotics, audio-visual feeds and digital systems)
“Our team has access to the latest technology, equipment and methodologies to support the AFP and protect Australians and Australia’s national interests locally, nationally and abroad.”AFP SUPERINTENDENT PHILLIPPA CONNELL
- Assault Rifles – Knight’s Armament Company SR-16 E3, LaRue OBR PredatAR 5.56 and Heckler & Koch G36
- Sniper Rifle – Barrett M107 A1
- Shotgun – Remington 870 Shotgun
- Sidearm – Glock 17
- Launchers – Penn Arms L140-4 and Heckler & Koch M320
- Uniform – Crye Precision Standard and Black Multicam G3, Plain Clothes and AFP Uniform
- Plate Carrier – Crye Precision Jumpable Plate Carrier 2.0
- Helmet – Gentex Ops-Core Future Assault Shell Technology (FAST)
- Ear Protection – 3M Peltor COMTAC XPI and Gentex Ops-Core AMP
- Gas Mask – MSA Safety Millennium, Avon Protection M50 and FM12
- Gloves – Mechanix Tactical Gloves
- Boots – Salomon XA Forces MID
- Less Than Lethal Munitions – Flashbangs, Smoke Grenades, Tear Gas, Bean Bag Rounds and Axon Taser 7
- Shields – ProTech Intruder HS Type IIIa Tactical Shield-Wl, PARACLETE Phalanx X, Baker Ballistics Bat Shield and Armadillo Interlocking Riot Shield
- Dynamic Entry Tools – Battering Ram, Sledge Hammer, Prying Bar, Chainsaw, Cut-off Saw and Breaching Strips
- Restraints – Serflex Handcuffs
- K9 – Belgian Shepards
- Reconnaissance Drones – DJI Mavic Air Quadcopter and Roboteam Throwable IRIS
- Tactical Pole Camera
- CBRN Breathing Apparatus – Wilcox Patriot Assault System
- Diving Equipment – Wetsuit, Scuba Gear and Closed Circuit Rebreather
- Night Vision
- Climbing Equipment
- Ghillie Suit
- Armoured Vehicle – Lenco Bearcat G3
- Sport Utility Vehicle – Toyota LC200 with off-road modifications
- Utility Task Vehicle – Polaris MRZR
- Quad Bike – Polaris MV850
- Motorbike – KTM 1290 Super Adventure R
- Various Covert Civilian Appearance Land Vehicles
- Rigid Inflatable Boat – 11M Naval Special Warfare RIB
- Combat Rubber Raiding Craft
In 2022 alone, the AFP said the unit had been deployed 135 times, domestically and overseas. 70% of these operations were focused on high-risk apprehensions and specialist support for search warrants (Source).
Tactical Response Team operations are highly secretive. It is not known how long the unit has been operating for. The handful of operations the TRT are known to have been involved with are as follows:
6.1 Special Operation Ironside, 2021
Ironside was a joint operation led by the Australian Federal Police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The agencies filled the void EncroChat left in the criminal space with a honey pot service called ANØM. All communications between users were monitored for criminal activity (Source).
The Tactical Response Team participated in the “resolution phase” of the operation. Footage displayed the unit actively participating in dynamic entries, suspect apprehensions, and property searches as part of ongoing investigations. (Source).
In Australia, Ironside resulted in (Source):
- 224 arrests
- 526 charges
- Seizure of 3.7 Tonnes of drugs
- Seizure of 104 weapons
- Seizure of $44,934,457 million in cash and assets estimated to be worth millions
- Disruptions to 20 threats to kill
6.2 Solomon Islands Unrest / Operation Skyray, 2021
In November of 2021, protests erupted in the Solomon Islands mainly focused on getting Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to resign concerning a number of domestic grievances. Issues relating to cutting ties with Taiwan and favouring relations with China over the US added further tension (Source). Some anti-government protestors looted shops, set buildings ablaze including a police station and killed 4 people.
The Government of the Solomon Islands issued a formal request for assistance under the Australia–Solomon Islands Bilateral Security Treaty. Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police were deployed to assist the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). The Tactical Response Team’s mission was to support the RSIPF with public order policing and protect critical infrastructure (Source).
The Tactical Response Team was deployed for 8 months in the Solomon Islands (Source). The TRT during that deployment trained the RSIPF in public order policing and other tactics as part of their Policing Partnership Program. Joint exercises were also conducted to support the RSIPF in preparation to host the Pacific Games in Honiara in 2023 (Source).
6.3 Convoy to Canberra Protest / Operation Hawker, 2022
The TRT was spotted supporting other police elements during the anti-vaccination mandate and sovereign citizen protest (Source) (Source). The tactics used by protestors such as occupying key locations with vehicles for extended periods, were inspired by the Canadian “Freedom Convey” protest. Which caused significant disruption to trade across the US-Canadian border (Source). The TRT’s Canadian counterpart, the RCMP ERT were deployed to that protest (Source).
The protest was mostly peaceful and did not result in any casualties (Source). The TRT’s presence was likely to deter violent action against the government in the wake of the US January 6th incident, as the protest took place directly outside of the Australian parliament with approximately 10,000 people in attendance.
6.4 High-Level Criminal Escorts, 2022
Mark Buddle, the former leader of the Comanchero Motorcycle Club, faced deportation from Turkey in 2021 on charges of importing 160 kg of cocaine into Melbourne, with an estimated value of $40 million. Buddle was a user of the ANØM app, part of the special operation Ironside (Source). The Tactical Response Team provided security during Buddle’s escort to Melbourne (Source).
Neil Prakash, was also deported from Turkey after joining the Islamic State in Syria, in 2016. He faces 6 charges of terrorism and is facing a life sentence (Source). The TRT also provided security during his escort to Melbourne (Source).
The Tactical Response Team is a sophisticated and highly trained capability of the Australian Federal Police. The unit will continue to operate with a high level of discretion to protect the interests of Australia.
Increasing geopolitical competition and climate change in the region could increase instability and illicit activity (Source). Potentially leading Australia to increase the projection of its security capabilities abroad in an effort to deny the influence of state and organised criminal actors.