Spe­cial Forces – More Fo­cus Re­quired

Spe­cial Forces are be­ing used strate­gi­cally world over to fur­ther na­tional in­ter­ests of their coun­tries. Their em­ploy­ment is ac­tu­ally an ex­ten­sion of their for­eign pol­icy.


Spe­cial Forces are be­ing used strate­gi­cally world over to fur­ther na­tional in­ter­ests of their coun­tries. Their em­ploy­ment is ac­tu­ally an ex­ten­sion of their for­eign pol­icy.

Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

THE RE­CENT TER­ROR­IST AT­TACK on the Sun­jwan Army Camp on Fe­bru­ary 10 saw em­ploy­ment of Spe­cial Forces (SF) of the Army from more than one unit. Not only was this par­tic­u­lar camp large, the ter­ror­ists had man­aged to get in­side the fam­ily quar­ters. It then re­quired sys­tem­atic clear­ing of these quar­ters num­ber­ing some 150, af­ter the oc­cu­pants were evac­u­ated. The op­er­a­tion re­quired mul­ti­ple room in­ter­ven­tions in back­drop of am­bi­gu­ity of the ex­act num­ber of ter­ror­ists and which quar­ters were oc­cu­pied by them es­pe­cially af­ter fir­ing ceased. It is not that the in­fantry is not ca­pa­ble of un­der­tak­ing room in­ter­ven­tion, but the Spe­cial Forces are bet­ter trained and equipped. Log­i­cally, the in­fantry, es­pe­cially their Ghatak Pla­toons, should be fully trained and equipped for such tasks. How­ever, this fo­cus is not to the re­quired level be­cause the Spe­cial Forces whose pri­mary tasks should be across the bor­ders are mainly be­ing em­ployed own side of the bor­der, and hence are avail­able. In J&K, most of the in­ci­dents where ter­ror­ists man­aged to get in­side build­ings, the SF are in the van­guard in op­er­a­tions. This also suits Pak­istan’s low­cost proxy war, be­cause if In­dian SF be­gin un­der­tak­ing covert op­er­a­tions on sus­tained ba­sis ‘in­side’ Pak­istan in con­junc­tion with Afghanistan to fan Pak­istan’s fault-lines, Pak­istan may find the in­sta­bil­ity be­com­ing un­con­trol­lable.

The sur­gi­cal strikes by our Spe­cial Forces in POK on Septem­ber 28, 2016 were ef­fec­tive but were un­for­tu­nately politi­cized. Covert op­er­a­tions must be kept un­der wraps in the in­ter­est of se­cu­rity of fu­ture op­er­a­tions. The US dis­clo­sure of the raid by Seal Team 6 to kill Osama bin Laden be­ing pub­li­cized was a dif­fer­ent is­sue be­cause US don’t need to un­der­take a se­cond strike Abot­tabad, whereas our Spe­cial Forces may have to re­peat sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions many times over. It is also sig­nif­i­cant to note how many years the US kept un­der wraps build­ing in­tel­li­gence for lo­cat­ing and plan­ning the killing of Osama bin-Laden, re­hears­ing me­chan­ics of the raid, sup­pres­sion of Pak­istani air de­fences and the like. Com­pare this to our ir­re­spon­si­ble me­dia re­cently broad­cast­ing that In­dia had put its Spe­cial Forces on alert for pos­si­ble in­ter­ven­tion in Mal­dives — sim­i­lar to what In­dia did in 1988 un­der Op ‘Cac­tus’. There were tele­vised de­bates on how to launch Op Cac­tus 2.0 by In­dia — with pos­si­ble me­chan­ics of in­ter­ven­tion be­ing dis­cussed thread­bare. Even in the case of the ‘sur­gi­cal strikes’, some en­ter­pris­ing TV an­chors wanted to know de­tails of all types of weaponry and equip­ment our Spe­cial Forces hold. Some hav­ing heard Spe­cial Forces had been em­ployed, talked of paradrop­ping, com­bat free-fall and even he­li­copters land­ing across the across the LoC al­beit these sur­gi­cal strikes were just about few km across the LoC and be­ing on foot could have been ex­e­cuted by reg­u­lar in­fantry as well. Pak­istan de­nied any strikes had taken place but the SP of Mir­pur in POK when con­tacted by a me­dia house on tele­phone pos­ing as his DIG re­vealed that mul­ti­ple sur­gi­cal strikes by In­dia had in­deed taken place and in his lo­ca­tion alone five Pak­istani army men and num­ber of ter­ror­ists had been killed, and while he did not know how many ter­ror­ists were killed and in­jured, some 12 bod­ies were taken away in ve­hi­cles.

Strate­gic Em­ploy­ment

Spe­cial Forces are be­ing used strate­gi­cally world over to fur­ther na­tional in­ter­ests of their coun­tries. Their em­ploy­ment is ac­tu­ally an ex­ten­sion of their for­eign pol­icy of the con­cerned coun­try. Lead­ing na­tions em­ploy­ing Spe­cial Forces proac­tively trans­fron­tiers are per­haps the USA, Rus­sia, UK, China and Is­rael. US Spe­cial Forces (USSF) are op­er­at­ing in over 100 coun­tries. This is in ad­di­tion to al­most all diplo­matic mis­sions in for­eign coun­tries hav­ing USSF pres­ence. China has al­ready po­si­tioned PLA troops in her de­vel­op­ment projects glob­ally in­cluded Pak­istan, POK, Nepal, Myan­mar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Sey­chelles, Mal­dives in In­dia’s neigh­bour­hood, be­sides other coun­tries in garb of work­ers and tech­ni­cians of de­vel­op­ment projects. So, we can safely posit a size­able sec­tion be­ing Chi­nese Spe­cial Forces. Pak­istan has em­ployed the SSG ac­tively in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kash­mir, Nepal and Bangladesh, and is forg­ing links with ex­trem­ist/ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions in In­dia. Sig­nif­i­cantly, Ata Ul­lah, leader of the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army (ARSA) and Asim Umar, leader of the Al Qaeda’s South Asia Branch (AQIS) are both Pak­istani na­tion­als.

Strate­gic Asym­me­try

The four broad di­vi­sions in the spec­trum of con­flict com­prise the nu­clear, con­ven­tional, sub-con­ven­tional and cy­berspace. China has ad­vanced ca­pa­bil­i­ties in all four di­vi­sions. As for cy­berspace, In­dia and Pak­istan are still tak­ing ini­tial steps. But what should be of se­ri­ous con­cern to us is that while both China and Pak­istan are em­ploy­ing pro-ac­tive sub-con­ven­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties, we are dras­ti­cally lag­ging be­hind in this sphere, and we can­not think of em­ploy­ment of Spe­cial Forces be­yond di­rect ac­tion type of tasks like sur­gi­cal strikes. In ab­sence of such de­ter­rence against ir­reg­u­lar war­fare, sim­ply telling Pak­istan that talks and ter­ror­ism can­not go to­gether can­not suf­fice. Talks any­way to be op­ti­mized from a po­si­tion o strength. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have failed to not only not build ef­fec­tive de­ter­rence against Pak­istan’s proxy war but have com­pounded the strate­gic asym­me­try by de­grad­ing even the con­ven­tional mus­cle. It is also not un­der­stood that pro-ac­tive sub­con­ven­tional de­ter­rence can­not be ef­fec­tive with mere sur­gi­cal strikes.

Our Spe­cial Forces

We have large num­ber of Spe­cial Forces (Army’s Para (SF) bat­tal­ions, Ma­rine Com­man­dos (MAR­COS) of Navy, Garud of Air Force, Spe­cial Ac­tion Groups (SAGs) of NSG, and Spe­cial Groups (SGs) of Spe­cial Fron­tier Force), al­most the num­ber of US Spe­cial Forces, and we did em­ploy then three para­chute (com­mando) units as part of IPKF in Sri Lanka. But be­yond that, un­for­tu­nately there is no think­ing of their em­ploy­ment abroad other than in con­ven­tional war, UN mis­sions, and short dis­tanced phys­i­cal or di­rect type of ac­tions ex­e­cuted on a unit/sub unit ba­sis. Their po­ten­tial in asym­met­ric wars to fur­ther na­tional se­cu­rity ob­jec­tives is not un­der­stood by the hi­er­ar­chy. Spe­cial Forces should be cen­tral to our asym­met­ric re­sponse, which does not nec­es­sar­ily im­ply op­er­at­ing in units/sub units. In most case, such a Spe­cial Forces re­sponse does not even au­to­mat­i­cally re­late to phys­i­cal at­tack, phys­i­cal at­tack be­ing only the ex­treme and po­ten­tially most dan­ger­ous ex­pres­sion of asym­met­ric war­fare. The key lies in achiev­ing strate­gic ob­jec­tives through ap­pli­ca­tion of mod­est re­sources with the es­sen­tial psy­cho­log­i­cal com­po­nent. These are is­sues that the na­tional hi­er­ar­chy needs to ex­am­ine, in or­der to stream­line em­ploy­ment of our Spe­cial Forces.


Spe­cial Forces equip­ping must cater for not only room in­ter­ven­tion tasks but all weather, all ter­rain op­er­abil­ity and sur­vival ca­pac­ity for strate­gic tasks including sur­veil­lance and tar­get des­ig­na­tion in ar­eas of strate­gic in­ter­est, shap­ing asym­met­ric and con­ven­tional bat­tle­field to In­dian ad­van­tage, de­ter­ring op­po­nents ex­ploit­ing our fault lines, con­trol­ling fault lines of ad­ver­saries, un­der­tak­ing in­for­ma­tion/psy­cho­log­i­cal op­er­a­tions and un­con­ven­tional war­fare, anti hi­jack, build­ing part­ner ca­pa­bil­i­ties with friendly coun­tries.

Mil­i­tary’s Van­guard. Spe­cial Forces of modern armies are the van­guard for in­duc­tion of fu­tur­is­tic weapons, equip­ment and tech­nolo­gies into the rest of the armed forces. They have in­built R&D fa­cil­i­ties that not only un­der­take re­search but are ca­pa­ble of cus­tomiz­ing avail­able off the shelf weapons and equip­ment to Spe­cial Forces needs and in some cases even for specif­i­cally in­di­vid­ual Spe­cial Forces mis­sion — not dif­fer­ent from Q’s set up in James Bond movies. In­dian Spe­cial Forces do not have such con­cept. The con­cept of ‘sup­port el­e­ments’ and in­te­gral or ded­i­cated in­ser­tion/ex­trac­tion means is also miss­ing. Pack­aged Equip­ping. Spe­cial Forces must have is ‘pack­aged’ equip­ping; if an as­sault squad is au­tho­rized ‘X’ weapons

and ‘Y’ equip­ment, all of them have to be pro­vi­sioned to­gether if the ex­pected mis­sion out­come and com­bat ca­pa­bil­ity is to be achieved. For ex­am­ple, hand-held laser tar­get des­ig­na­tors have been au­tho­rized to army’s Spe­cial Forces since last 16 years but have not been pro­vi­sioned yet. The army has also had the prob­lem of re-sup­ply/ re­place­ment of im­ported spe­cial equip­ment since con­cur­rent ac­tion of ‘in­tro­duc­ing’ the equip­ment into ser­vice has not been tak­ing place. The ab­sence of cor­ner shots with the NSG em­ployed dur­ing the 26/11 Mum­bai ter­ror­ist at­tack was con­spic­u­ous al­though this equip­ment was held with the Spe­cial Group of the SFF for past few years.

Weapons. Army Spe­cial Forces are au­tho­rized Ta­vor as­sault ri­fles but due to rapid ex­pan­sion, units are left hold­ing mix of Ta­vor and AK se­ries of as­sault ri­fles, which is not good. Spe­cial Forces of modern armies are hold­ing ‘si­lence’ ver­sion of small arms, which in­cludes pis­tols, car­bines and ri­fles, how­ever, in the case of our Spe­cial Forces it is lim­ited to im­ported car­bines. The MoD has re­cently ap­proved im­port of new 8.6mm sniper ri­fles, which will also re­place the 7.62 mm Dra­gunov sniper ri­fles held by Army Spe­cial Forces. Bat­tle­field In­for­ma­tion and Man­age­ment. A ma­jor void ex­ists in the pro­vi­sion of a bat­tle­field in­for­ma­tion and man­age­ment that would en­able mul­ti­ple Spe­cial Forces de­tach­ments op­er­at­ing wide spread over long dis­tance deep in­side enemy ter­ri­tory com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a spe­cial op­er­a­tions com­mand post at the par­ent bat­tal­ion head­quar­ters, Corps level FMCP and di­rectly to the air-force net for call­ing airstrikes, as also armed UAV’s. A sep­a­rate case for exclusive sys­tem for Army Spe­cial Forces was merged into the Bat­tle­field Man­age­ment Sys­tem (BMS) for the In­dian Army. Iron­i­cally, the BMS project was re­cently fore­closed due to lack of funds de­spite pur­su­ing it for a decade plus, and de­spite China’s PLA go­ing full speed for dig­i­ti­za­tion. Army’s Bat­tle­field Sur­veil­lance Sys­tem (BSS) too is pro­gress­ing at snail’s pace. Com­pare this to the US Ma­rine Corps, which is on the cusp of fur­ther in­te­grat­ing a touch screen tablet and smart-phone tech­nol­ogy that will aid Marines call­ing in ac­cu­rate air ar­tillery strikes: Drones and UAVs. Spe­cial Forces must ex­per­i­ment and op­ti­mizes back­pack UAVs and all types of com­mer­cial drones including for tasks like sur­veil­lance, mon­i­tor­ing, at­tack­ing, cy­ber, wall climb­ing and the like.

EW. Many Spe­cial Forces ex­ploit the use of hand-held EW guns in counter in­sur­gency as well as in­side enemy ter­ri­tory.


Split be­tween var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions with var­ied chan­nels of com­mand and con­trol. The govern­ment-ap­pointed Naresh Chan­dra Com­mit­tee in its rec­om­men­da­tions sub­mit­ted in Au­gust 2017 had rec­om­mended es­tab­lish­ment of a Spe­cial Opera-

Well manned, well equipped, well trained and psy­cho­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated Spe­cial Forces ca­pa­ble of pro­ject­ing a na­tion’s power is one of the ma­jor cur­ren­cies of fu­ture power play. Hence, they must be well nur­tured for full con­flict spec­trum ca­pa­bil­ity.

tions Com­mand but six years have gone by. Dur­ing the Uni­fied Com­man­ders’ Con­fer­ence dur­ing July 2017, the De­fence Sec­re­tary an­nounced Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Di­vi­sion (SOD) will “soon” be­come re­al­ity. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia, SOD will col­late Spe­cial Forces of the Army, Navy and IAF, for sup­port­ing of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive op­er­a­tions.

Given our pe­cu­liar en­vi­ron­ment and struc­tures, what In­dia needs is Spe­cial Forces op­ti­miza­tion in two tiers: One, a Na­tional Op­er­a­tions Di­vi­sion (NOD) un­der the Prime Min­is­ter (Spe­cial Forces mis­sions of politico-mil­i­tary na­ture in most coun­tries are con­trolled and ex­e­cuted by po­lit­i­cal au­thor­ity with­out ref­er­ence to mil­i­tary due to their sen­si­tiv­ity) for em­ploy­ment of Spe­cial Forces at strate­gic level on politi­comil­i­tary mis­sions to con­tin­u­ously shape the en­vi­ron­ment in In­dia’s favour, and; Two, Strate­gic Op­er­a­tions Di­vi­sion (SOD) un­der CDS/Chair­man COSC for sup­port­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions through the spec­trum of con­flict. Strate­gic sense dic­tates SOD should also in­te­grate rel­e­vant el­e­ments of NSG and SFF. El­e­ments of NOD must be de­ployed in all ar­eas/re­gions of our strate­gic in­ter­ests. The SOD must have theatre spe­cial­iza­tion and in­clude spe­cific task-based ir­reg­u­lar com­ple­ment, where re­quired. It must have 100 per cent man­ning, sep­a­rate bud­get, pro­vi­sion of state-of-the-art ‘pack­aged’ equip­ment, in­te­grated plan for ad­vanced and joint train­ing including IT and cy­ber, in­te­grated spe­cial op­er­a­tions squadron (s), Cy­ber Cell and R&D el­e­ment to cus­tom­ize weapons and equip­ment.


Well manned, well equipped, well trained and psy­cho­log­i­cally mo­ti­vated Spe­cial Forces ca­pa­ble of pro­ject­ing a na­tion’s power is one of the ma­jor cur­ren­cies of fu­ture power play. Hence, they must be well nur­tured for full con­flict spec­trum ca­pa­bil­ity. Their equip­ping cer­tainly re­quires much greater fo­cus. They should be the cut­ting edge for strate­gic force pro­jec­tion.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: In­dian Army

Spe­cial Forces in ac­tion

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