Equipping Special Forces
[ By Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch ]
Being under different chains of command, there is little commonality in equipment of the Military’s Special Forces. Then is the essential requirement of provisioning ‘packaged equipping’ that is generally ignored. ‘Packaged Equipping’ implies that if a subunit of Special Forces is authorised particular weapons and equipment, these must be made available as a package in the required quantities. Packaged equipment is essential because if a subunit does not have the complete authorised equipment, its combat capability will obviously be less. Unfortunately, indigenous development by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) have not been able to provide even the very basic requirements of say rucksacks and rappelling gloves, leave aside weapons, imports being relied upon in case of the latter even by Infantry – assault rifles, carbines, light machine guns etc. Ironically, even the indigenous night vision and surveillance devices produced indigenously continue to be inferior to imported counterpart despite the fact that we still are importing 100 per cent IR Tubes, own R&D having yet to develop these.
Then is the glaring void of light weight hand-held laser designators for which an empowered committee had visited Israel in 2002 but unfortunately Israel had won the bid as L1 while the equipment in question was still in unassembled form under laboratory testing. The French equipment was available but L2 and hence bureaucratic red tape did not permit its procurement. More than a decade has gone by and still the Army’s Special Forces are without these laser target designators. Another glaring void is the information system package for communication with all the required entities including calling in required shooters.
A Special Operations Command Post (SOCP) that was to be developed has again been delayed by more than a decade despite the fact that single vendor indigenous capability existed and the vendor had actually sold the software to the Special Group of the Special Frontier Force (SFF). Ironically, mired with red-tape, development of the SOCP under powers of ARTRAC was eventually shelved and the requirement has been dovetailed into the battlefield management system (BMS) which itself has been hiccupping in delays and has recently taken the next step, the expression of interest (EoI) has recently been issued on November 11, 2013.
If all goes well then prototype development and fielding for user evaluation should likely happen by December 2016 and equipping from 2017 if the trials are successful. This schedule is possible only if there are no more hurdles. In general terms, the equipment that is lacking presently with Special Forces is in terms of light weight handheld laser target designators, information system package to communicate with required entities to include voice, data, video streaming, light weight long range global communications to call multiple weapon strikes, state-of-the-art listening and surveillance devices – from miniature devices hand-held to MAVs, helicopter transportable all terrain vehicles, corner shots, goggles/devices to see through walls, hand-held EW weapons, state-of-the-art explosive devices with long-term timers, all terrain light weight clothing and load carriage, latest survival equipment, to name a few.
What has also hit equipping of Special Forces is the unprecedented expansion of Special Forces in completed contrast to global norms ignoring the overall dilution including in terms of manpower, training, equipping – all culmination into lowered combat capability. The already has eight Special Forces battalions. Orders to raise the ninth such unit are under issue and the tenth one will be raised after this raising is completed. This is in stark contrast to expansion of Special Forces in foreign armies. The average authorised rate of annual expansion of US Special Forces (USSF) remained constant at 1.8 per cent for many years but was raised to 2.5 per cent in 2011 because of global commitments. In our case we went in for a 120 per cent increase in period 200104 alone including converting 3 x Para battalions to Special Forces and adding the fourth assault team in all SF units.
The unprecedented expansion was resorted to by deliberately feeding the hierarchy that 20,000 USSF were operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was untrue since this included 82 and 101 Airborne Divisions of the US. Actually even in the peak period of USSF deployment only 90 x Operation Detachments Alpha (ODAs) were actually used (each ODA is 10-12 strong). This happened because successive unlike any other country in the world, the Army’s Special Forces battalions and the Parachute Battalions are grouped in the same regiment and whenever the Parachute Regiment was headed by a Colonel of the Regiment without any Special Forces experience, the whole emphasis was to somehow convert the entire Parachute Regiment into Special Forces, in complete disregard to the adverse consequences to the overall Special Forces capability and the concept of the Special Forces.
The idea of 20,000 USSF in Iraq and Afghanistan was mooted by the then Colonel of the Parachute Regiment who happened to be heading Perspective Planning of the army. Not only was this not checked, the section in Military Operations Directorate looking after Special Forces was posted mostly with paratrooper officers and not Special Forces officers, as should be the case. The two star appointment in Military Operations Directorate as Additional Director General (Special Forces) is headed by a paratrooper (not Special Forces) officer since its raising few years ago, which continues to date. To top this, the one star appointment under him designated as Deputy Director General (Special Forces) gets posted by an officer from the unit/regiment of the prevailing Army Chief merely to get a stamp of serving with the Military Operations Directorate.
The effect of all this has been that weapons and equipment imported for Special Forces battalions get distributed to normal parachute units. This plus the new raisings in rapid succession is seriously affecting the manpower and equipping of existing Special Forces battalions. Special Forces battalions that should be holding some nine lakh rounds of ammunition for imported Tavor assault rifles are down to the region of some 40,000 rounds. How this affects even routine firing training needs no explanation. This is just one example. Yet, the hierarchy remains oblivious. There is certainly need for reflection.