Innovation and Adaptation

Combat Behaviours

By Tom Bourke August 10, 2020


Establishing good Combat Behaviours is essential to prepare combatants to fight and win on the contemporary battlefield. Combat Behaviours—intuitive battlefield responses—are trained under a Combat Mindset. These behaviours are the product of deliberate practice, seen across multiple programs in the Combatant Training Continuum. Teaching these behaviours can be optimised through the use of a simple equation. The benefits of well drilled Combat Behaviours will be clear in future fights.

Every second counts for the professional soldier on the contemporary battlefield. Imagine a soldier preparing for a mission; equipment meticulously set up to unconsciously know where to find everything. He knows that he can engage a target in .9 of a second, that transitioning to his pistol will take him 4 and an emergency reloading will take him 6. This soldier is composed under contact, ingrained though simulated combat again and again. Combat Behaviours have created this combatant.

What are Combat Behaviours?

Professional soldiers employ intuitive actions to maximise their lethality on the battlefield. These behaviours are Combat Behaviours, instructed through a modern philosophy: the Combat Mindset. These behaviours are well suited to assess a Combat Mindset and are readily apparent to training staff.

High stress environments can prompt paralysis in untested combatants, it is through effective Combat Behaviours that combatants can control themselves and excel in combat. When instituting a Combat Mindset, with Combat Behaviours, professional soldiers can be inculcated to the stresses of the battlefield, creating a pre-combat veteran. These behaviours allow time for professional soldiers to think and react to survive the fight.

The Power of Habit

Repetition creates solid Combat Behaviours. Will Durant identifies this when he states, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”[1] These Combat Behaviours must be instilled from ab initio training. Taught correctly, Combat Behaviours can be ingrained in the unconscious of professional soldiers.

There is no room for error when employing Combat Behaviours. A popular mantras in combat shooting says, “Perfect practice makes perfect”. Perfect practice develops the muscle memory of the action and solidifies the neural pathways, allowing for less conscious effort to be exerted with each repetition. Much like in an athlete an unconscious competence is developed.

Building effective Combat Behaviours

Three components determine the quality of Combat Behaviours: instructor competence, realistic training and a robust program. In a formula, it looks like this:

CB = (r + p)c


CB is Combat Behaviours

r is realistic training

p is a robust program

c is instructor competence

To expand the equation, if realistic training and a robust program are developed but a poor instructor is placed in control Combat Behaviours will suffer. As instructor competence is increased, the quality of the Combat Behaviours increases. The best instructors instil the best Combat Behaviours.

Realistic training

Professional soldiers absorb instruction on Combat Behaviours through realistic training. This realistic training provides soldiers a reference in high stress situations. Ken Murray, author of Training at the Speed of Life highlights,the mind is like a Rolodex of experiences, the mind will jump to the one that best suits the situation.”[2] Training must allow professional soldiers to expand their Rolodex of experiences to become pre-combat veterans on the battlefield.

Robust Program

The Combatant Training Continuum provides three robust programs: the Army Combatives Program, the Close Combat Shooting Program and the Combat Marksmanship Program. Within these programs, a combatant operates across three principal combat engagement zones, from zero metres to 600 metres. These programs train Combat Behaviours to meet an adversary within these ranges.

Competent Instructors

Competent instructors are the core of all combatant training. They multiply the impact of other facets of the equation. These instructors employ enhanced instructional techniques—leveraging an adult learning environment and focus on each learner as an individual. This requires instructors to be conscious of the way in which they instruct in relation to their audience, to ensure a Combat Mindset is built in all trainees.


Training Combat Behaviours creates pre-combat veterans with immediate action drills that increase their lethality. Good Combat Behaviours are created through realistic training, robust programs and competent instructors. With enhanced Combat Behaviours, every professional soldier is prepared to fight and win on the contemporary battlefield.


[1] Durant, Will, 1998, The Story of Philosophy, Garden City Publishing Co, New York, pg 87.

[2] During a workshop held at Lavarack Barracks 08/17.



Tom Bourke

Lieutenant Tom Bourke is currently serving as a Platoon Commander at the School of Infantry.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


How can I contact the author?, I'm an officer in the Chilean army and am doing an investigation on the subject and would like to have his perspective and permission for quoting him and his article.

To be the most effective soldier in a combat situation the implementation of one combat behaviour isn’t enough to thrive in adverse high stress situations. So there isn’t such thing to me as the most important combat behaviour because one behaviour is nothing without the other, example being having a quick “E reload” time means nothing if your use of over is poor or your speed and aggression against an objective means nothing if you get tunnel vision on the objective. So instead of what is the most effective combat behaviour it should be most effective skill set Which to me personally would be the “combat shooting” concept as Combat shooting as a whole incorporates multiple combat behaviours that increase both the level of survivability and lethality of a soldier that correctly implements them. Furthermore combat shooting embodies what I See as The fundamental principles needed for surviving and winning a fire fight, those fundamentals being 1. Shoot, move communicate 2. Slow where I need to be fast where I can be 3. Use of cover to engage targets 4. Rapid engagement of multiple threats from multiple angles Because of the reasons stated above I believe that combat shooting is the most effective combat skill set that I have at my disposal

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