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.

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