Master of Special Operations & Irregular Warfare

Addressing Broader Issues in Strategy & Security

Contemporary armed conflicts have demonstrated a contest between state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence with a target population. Within these types of irregular warfare, the employment of special operations forces has been seen on an unprecedented scale, yet special operations remains an understudied and often misunderstood instrument of military policy.  

 The Master of Special Operations and Irregular Warfare at UNSW Canberra uniquely addresses this gap by offering students a combination of special operations focused content alongside a selection of electives addressing broader issues in strategy and security. This program is ideal for military personnel and those in the security policy community seeking to broaden their understanding of special operations beyond the tactical and operational skills and capabilities involved. It also provides an excellent framework of reference for other government employees and contractors who would benefit from a better understanding of special operations as a military instrument. 

What Our Students Say

“My primary incentive for studying through UNSW Canberra was the potential for greater Defence assistance. Once I finished my first postgraduate degree, I returned to UNSW Canberra due to the unique courses it offers and the excellent structure of its programs.” 


James Easton, Master of Special Operations & Irregular Warfare student

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You can find more information on this degree on the UNSW Handbook.

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Students undertaking the Master of Special Operations and Irregular Warfare are required to take 8 courses (48 UOC) comprising 24 UOC of core courses, with the remaining courses selected in any combination from the elective courses. 

The core courses will normally be offered annually or at least every two years; the elective courses will be offered on an opportunity basis. 

Students who obtain at least a Distinction average in the four core courses may take a 12 UOC research thesis, ZHSS8401 Research Thesis A 6 UOC and ZHSS8402 Research Thesis B 6 UOC. You must enrol in both units to fulfil the requirements. You may enrol in the two units concurrently to do the thesis in a single semester, or consecutively to complete it over two semesters. Enrolment is subject to approval by the Postgraduate Coordinator.

ZHSS8401 - Research Thesis A

ZHSS8402 - Research Thesis B

Students must complete the following 4 core courses (24 UOC):

Core Courses Semester 1 - 2023 Semester 2 - 2023
History of Special Operations Not Offered Distance Mode
Special Operations: Theory and Strategic Utility Distance Mode Not Offered
GRIM Threats Not Offered Not Offered
Ethics in Special Operations and Irregular Warfare Not Offered Not Offered

Students must complete a minimum of 4 elective courses (24 UOC) from the following list:

Elective Courses Semester 1 - 2023 Semester 2 - 2023
Leadership Distance Mode Not Offered
Genocide: Perception and Intervention Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8221 The Development of the Art of War Distance Mode Not Offered
ZHSS8225  Australian Military History Not Offered Distance Mode
ZHSS8226 The Vietnam Wars: A Thirty Year Conflict Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8227  Civil Wars: Societies in Conflict Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8403 Global Security Distance Mode Not Offered
ZHSS8409 Asia-Pacific Security: The Dynamics of Change Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8410 Australian Defence Policy: Concepts and Challenges Not Offered Distance Mode
ZHSS8417 Air Power in the 21st Century: Strategic Issues Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8430 China's Security Policy and Military Modernisation Distance Mode Not Offered
ZHSS8435 Contemporary Strategy Not Offered Distance Mode
ZHSS8441 Cyber-Security and World Politics Distance Mode Not Offered
ZHSS8442 Conflict Transformation Distance Mode Not Offered
ZHSS8452 Weapons of Mass Destruction and Global Security Not Offered  Not Offered
ZHSS8453 Culture and Conflict Not Offered  Not Offered
ZHSS8456 Australia and Cyber War Not Offered Distance Mode
ZHSS8467 Military Game Changers in 21st Century Warfare Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8503 Moral Leadership in Complex Military Operations Not Offered Not Offered
ZHSS8504 Space Cooperation, Conflict and Competition Not Offered Distance Mode

Please refer to the UNSW Handbook for the Entry Requirements.