Combat mission

Though armed forces all over the world are taking necessary steps to modernize and be ready to take on any challenge from rival State, the non State actors are expected to pose biggest threat, either from land, air or sea to State security. Since the threat perception for India has risen with the possible rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, the armed forces must gear up to face the new challenge with a well coordinated plan of action.

Many countries, facing the lurking dangers of high density terrorist attacks, are focusing especially on raising Special Forces units in their armed forces to neutralize those attackers well on time before they are allowed to cause major casualty and loss to state assets or territories.  

Even the Special Forces would be needed in a future conventional war which is first likely to be a localized affair with the potential of getting transformed in open all front war, without any adequate warning and preparation time.  Indian armed forces are working on an ambitious plan to raise more and more battalions which can be deployed swiftly on the place of action, well armed with all the required combat gears and means of their transportation to reach the destination well on time. This requires much coordination among all the services for required matching of assets and manpower for smooth conduct of the entire operation.

Since Special Forces are required in all the three domains , Indian armed forces have evolved a joint operations doctrine way back in 2008, which was officially released by the then Navy Chief Admiral Suresh Mehta. The Special Forces are required not only to take tough missions within the country to take on a terrorist attack; they can also be expected to be deployed outside the borders for which they must be equipped with sophisticated weapons and equipment.

Force multipliers

The Special Forces have been described as potent force multipliers. Indian armed forces have long experience of using Special Forces in Sri Lanka as part of the IPKF in 1988 and  during Operation Cactus in Maldives, when the government of  Abdul Gayoom was saved from the invaders from sea by the Indian commandoes dispatched on IL-76 aircraft to Male on its tiny island -airport. During the Kargil war the defence authorities felt the need for a dedicated Special Operations Forces when suddenly they found that the so called Mujahids captured the Kargil heights and the army took more than a month to pose a real challenge to them.

Interestingly the Special Forces doctrine was released only a month before the 26/11 terrorist attack from across the sea in Mumbai and the doctrine proved to be of no use as it remained only on paper. Six years later, the country seems to have moved ahead but not at the required pace.

The acquisition of six Hercules C-130J transport aircraft has added a new dimension to the Special Forces mobility but its muscle power is yet not visible publicly. Probably it will be put to test only when the country faces another calamitous attack. However, the pace with which latest gadgets and weapons are to be provided to the new dedicated battalions to be raised; seems to be very tardy.

The three services have their own independent Special Forces called the Para Special Forces for the Army, the MARCOS for the Navy and the GARUD for the Air Force, whereas the Paramilitary Forces also have their own dedicated Special Force units. The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has set up Commando Battalion for Resolute Action meant specially for tackling the Naxalite problem, which has been trained in guerilla warfare. They can be used in neighboring countries to flush out insurgent camps with the assistance of the host countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Likewise the Police have Grey Hounds, the home ministry has Special Frontier Force, the Army has Ghatak Force, the NSG has 51 Special Action Group etc. All of them have only one role-to take on the militant or terror group.

The MARCOS can be dispatched to neighboring island nations to help the host governments from coup attempts by outside forces to install their own puppet government. The MARCOS commandoes can be backed by the Reorganised Amphibious formation (RAMFOR), which will be able to launch offensive operations on the islands. In island countries like Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles the Special operations Forces could be utilized, comprising the Army’s 54thInfantry Division which has a force of around 10,000, who are trained to carry out amphibious operations. Thus as the most powerful navy in the Indian Ocean region the Indian Special Forces could be used to meet its national objectives.

Thousands of Indian Special Forces have  not only received special training in Israel but they also have been armed with advanced Israeli  small weapons like the Trevor rifles, which has enhanced the firepower of the Indian soldiers. These along with the 220 7.62 mm Galil rifles and 5,500  5.56 mm Trevor rifles besides M4A1 carbines have armed around 10,000 soldiers besides  all terrain multi utility vehicles, GPS navigation systems, modular acquisition devices to laser range finders, high frequency communication sets, combat free fall parachutes and underwater remotely operated vehicles from various countries which have also been acquired.  The seven Para-SF of the Army, 3-Para-SF (airborne battalion), MARCOS and the Garud force have already been equipped with high velocity ammunition firing weapons.

With the enemy trying to place in its soldiers disguised as infiltrators, the Indian Army has to face them in a low intensity warfare and has to be well equipped to tackle them at first sight. They must be superior in terms of lethality, survivability, mobility, combat effectiveness, battle scene awareness and sustainability. The soldiers must be aware of ground situation around the battle zone and be able to discern the enemy moves.

Integrated force

The Indian Army has a program called the Future Infantry Soldier as a System (F-INSAS) which is based on the concept of modular force in which the soldier forms an important node in a wider communication network in which the soldier will be able to share the information in real time with his colleagues and with the overall C4I2 (command, communication, control, computers, information and intelligence) network.

To bring cohesiveness and integrated utilization of assets among the Special Forces of Army, Air Force, Navy and other agencies, the Naresh Chandra task force for Indian National Security  has recommended in 2012 the setting up of the Special Operations Command which can execute strategic or politico-military operations in tune with India’s national security objectives.

The Task Force wants to strengthen the clandestine and unconventional warfare capabilities of the country’s armed forces to deal with the challenges of counter insurgency and counter- terrorism threats. The integrated force can be used as an expeditionary force to achieve country’s political objectives.

For this the Special Forces units of all the Services can operate under a Joint Special Operations Command. This can work under the Integrated Defence Services headquarters.  The new proposed command (J-SOC) will have an important role in the non-conventional and fourth generation warfare, but the turf war between various services is reported to have prevented its formation. According to insiders the three service headquarters would not like to relinquish control over their forces, hence the delay in evolving a consensus.

Presently, the Integrated Defence Staff has a directorate which has only administration role for the Amphibious and Special Forces but has no operational role. The Directorate only coordinates with the Services headquarters for chalking out joint doctrine for Amphibious and Special Forces, training policy and coordination of activities relating to outside agencies.

Presently the Special Forces of the Indian Army have four battalions from the Parachute Brigade which has been fully converted to Para Commando units. The army also has an amphibious brigade deployed at Port Blair under the tri service Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is the only integrated command of the Indian armed forces.

The Indian Navy is working on a plan to acquire an Advanced Integrated Combat System for the MARCOS. The ICS will help in maximizing the capabilities of the MARCOS commandoes during operations through its effective command, control and information sharing. The ICS will enable tactical awareness and improve the ability to fight in hostile environment and help the commander of the team to monitor and control operations from a remote location. It will also assist in day and night surveillance, ballistic protection, communication and firepower.

The Indian Navy has released Request for Information from international vendors about the ICS gadgets. The equipments which the navy has sought includes the lightweight helmets, head mounted displays, tactical and soft ballistic vests and communication equipments.

Besides the above, the MARCOS commandoes will also require the sights for the sniper rifles, laser range finders and thermal imagers and near IR laser pointers which will enable the commando team to launch surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting. Since the Navy has already acquired the Israeli Trevor rifles the navy would like the ICS to be compatible with the Israeli systems.