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.  

Degree type

Postgraduate coursework


1 year full-time

Commencing terms

Semester 1, Semester 2

Program code


Delivery mode



The Master of Special Operations & 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 who wish 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

Find out more

For more information on this degree, see the UNSW Handbook.

  • Students undertaking Master of Special Operations & Irregular Warfare are required to complete 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.

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

    Core courses

    Code Course Semester 1 - 2024 Semester 2 - 2024
    ZHSS8231 The History of Special Operations Not Offered Distance Mode
    ZHSS8459 Special Operations: Theory and Strategic Utility Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8461 GRIM Threats and Irregular Warfare Not Offered Distance Mode
    ZHSS8462 Ethics in Special, Complex and Irregular Military Operations Not Offered Distance Mode


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

    Elective courses

    Code Course Semester 1 - 2024 Semester 2 - 2024
    ZBUS8201 Leadership Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8201 Contemporary Warfare Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8203 Foundations of Modern Strategy Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8210 Genocide: Perception and Intervention Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8221 The Development of the Art of War: A Survey Not Offered Not Offered
    ZHSS8225 Australian Military History: An Introduction Not Offered Not Offered
    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 Distance Mode 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 Not Offered Distance Mode
    ZHSS8435 Contemporary Strategy Not Offered Not Offered
    ZHSS8441 Cyber-Security and World Politics Distance Mode Not Offered
    ZHSS8442 Conflict Transformation Not Offered Not Offered
    ZHSS8452 Weapons of Mass Destruction and Global Security Not Offered Not Offered
    ZHSS8453 Culture and Conflict Distance Mode 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

    Research Thesis

    Code Course Semester 1 - 2024 Semester 2 - 2024
    ZHSS8401 Research Thesis A Distance Mode Distance Mode
    ZHSS8402 Research Thesis B Distance Mode Distance Mode


  • For information regarding entry requirements, please refer to the UNSW Handbook

Key contacts

Program Coordinator
Dr Debbie Lackerstein

Student enquiries
T: (02) 5114 5000