The SAS is opening its doors to civilians who could, if made of the right stuff, be elite soldiers ready to serve in the most hostile hotspots in the world in as little as 18 months.

At present SAS prospects serve in the Defence Force for a few years before applying for the SAS, but a trial has been under way in the last two years allowing civilians to try out for the SAS.

Yesterday the Defence Force formally opened its doors to all comers - but it's not for wimps.

According to Prime Minister John Key, one of the training tests is to hike 200km in 60 hours with a 45kg pack.


"You've got to have mental toughness and physical strength. It's not for the faint-hearted or 50-year-olds like myself," Mr Key said.

Not only do SAS soldiers need to be supremely fit and have the endurance and stamina to match, but they also need to be intelligent, motivated, willing to learn and determined to serve.

Director of army recruiting Major Helen Horn said the drive was simply to have a greater pool or talent available to the SAS.

"This is not driven by any indication of a lack of capability or anything like that.

"It's about giving people the opportunity to identify what they want early on, and it potentially will increase the diversity of people applying.

"There is no intent at this point in time to increase the number [of SAS] overall."

Applicants will have to be genuinely motivated to join the army and have a second preference that they would pursue if they did not make the SAS cut, she said.

Those in the army can still apply for the SAS.

The new policy may also see more women apply, she said.

"We haven't had any women so far pass SAS selection. We're really keen to see women apply."

Applicants will have to pass many hurdles and demonstrate mental, physical and emotional toughness that would serve them well in places such as Kabul, Afghanistan, where 38 SAS soldiers are based and are regularly involved in shoot-outs.

If they make the later training stage they will learn navigation, weaponry, medical and specialist demolition skills.

"Only at the completion of the SAS cycle of training do they become a badged member of the SAS. The whole process would take at least 18 months," Major Horn said.

SAS soldiers can also undertake advanced training that includes parachuting, diving and boating, mountaineering, tracking and close quarter battle.

The first group of civilians to have this option will be those putting in applications up until early next month with the first SAS selection in January next year.

Your path to the SAS:
* Apply next month for aptitude and fitness tests, and an interview.
* If accepted, there is three months of physical training - to be completed in your own time.
* In January there is a 10-day test of endurance and motivation.
* Basic army training begins in February, then SAS cycle training - including navigation, weaponry, medical and demolitions.
* You could be an SAS soldier within 18 months of applying.
* About 10 per cent make it through the initial course.

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