The U.S. Marine Corps’ Martial Arts Program has been the Corps’ flagship close quarters combat program for well over a decade, teaching Marines to engage the enemy with hand-to-hand combat, edged weapons and weapons of opportunity.

Now, the Australian Army is following their lead. Down-under, Australian commandos have refined their own unarmed combat courses following the lessons they learned in recent battles.

The Australian Army intends to introduce this suite of unarmed combat courses as part of the force’s new approach to integrated combat, according to the Australian Army’s Director of Training and Doctrine Brig. Mick Ryan.

“Over the next 12 months, [the] Army will introduce a new shooting continuum and an unarmed combat training regime that will form part of a coherent approach to combat spanning from recruits through to Special Forces,” Ryan said in an Australian Defence Force press release. “Part of the unarmed combat training, known as the Army Combatives Program, will eventually become mandatory training for all Army personnel.”

The Australian Army previously taught a unarmed combat course called Military Self Defence, but “combat operations over the last decade have led both Special Forces Command and the Infantry Corps to move away from MSD, developing a separate suite of unarmed combat courses,” Brig. Ryan said.

The new initiative was largely influenced by Paul Cale, a former soldier in Australia’s elite 2nd Commando Regiment. During a 2007 night raid in Afghanistan, Cale was forced into a deadly scuffle with a Taliban commander, according to his account of the event in multiple interviews.

After that incident, he went home and began to flesh out a new program to better prepare his fellow commandos and infantrymen.

“Our guys, before Afghanistan, we would have thought we would just shoot them ... but people fight for their lives,” Cale said in a video posted to Kinetic Fighting’s website. “People don’t just stand there like targets, and when you’re that close with the enemy, you need to have the ability to fight hand-to-hand.”

Cale is now the chief executive officer for Kinetic Fighting, where he helped develop the new suite of techniques, and continues to teach other combat courses like tactical driving and close-quarters shooting.

The new combatives program, building off the work of special operators and infantry personnel, will be taught across the entire army. Yet there will be different levels of the course taught to army personnel depending on the likelihood of combat within their own military specialty.

However, Ryan stressed that the emerging program is not a martial art in the traditional sense. Instead, it will be combat-focused, teaching both “lethal and non-lethal techniques relevant to soldiers,” he added.

The levels of training will be broken down into four cohorts, according to Kinetic Fighting.

  • Level 1: Mandatory training across the Army that equips individuals to survive a physical encounter and retain their weapon.
  • Level 2: Discretionary training for any individual, equipping select personnel or trades to apply lethal and non-lethal techniques.
  • Level 3: Mandatory training for infantry, teaching them to apply lethal and non-lethal techniques.
  • Level 4: Mandatory training for special operators, teaching them to apply lethal and non-lethal techniques as part of a Special Forces team.

“A soldier’s primary weapon from the 19th century until now has been the firearm, and it’s about enhancing that firearm capability to work with less lethal force while still having a firearm with you,” Cale told News.com.au. “It’s not like going from being a shooter to a quasi-martial artist.”

“Once they learn this, it’s a non-perishable skill,” Cale said of the new program. “It will be so tightly linked to the shooting that it will be a very easy extension of their current skills.”