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Analysis of Sansad TV Discussion: India’s Special Forces

Relevance

”GS 3: Various Security Forces & Agencies & Their Mandate, Security Challenges & their Management in Border Areas”
”GS 2: India and its Neighbourhood”

Introduction

  • Like many other countries, India is also facing a host of unconventional security challenges. Terrorism, Left-wing extremism (LWE) and insurgency are some of the biggest security concerns of the Indian state.
  • The Indian experience shows that deployment of Special Forces in internal crises has also proved to be beneficial.
  • Moreover, there is a growing chorus among India’s strategic community that it is high time for India to don the role of at least a regional security provider.
  • The Indian military’s Joint Doctrine for Special Forces Operations envisages a key role for Special Forces across the theatre of conflicts: strategic, operational or tactical.
  • However, it is worthwhile to mention here that though our Special Forces have evolved over time and emerged as a potent force, the government needs to focus on developing their capabilities as potent force multipliers to face more challenging and daunting tasks ahead. Our Special Forces have to come to terms with rapid advances made in the field in order to stay relevant.

About Special Forces

  • Special Forces in their present form emerged in the early 20th century, with significant growth in the field during World War II.
  • Special Forces are military units trained to perform unconventional missions.
  • The meaning and role of Special Forces envisioned in the doctrines of the three services, the National Security Guard (NSG) Act, the Special Protection Group (SPG) Act and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBPF) Act, apart from the operating principles of Special Forces of other relevant agencies, by and large, correspond with the above-mentioned description of Special Forces.
  • The Indian Army Doctrine (2004) defines Special Forces as–specially selected troops who are trained, equipped and organized to operate in hostile territory, isolated from the main combat forces. They may operate independently or in conjunction with other forces at the operational level. They are versatile, have a deep reach and can make precision strikes at targets of critical importance.

Special Forces in India

The number of Special Forces in India is significantly large. The Indian armed forces have their own designated Special Forces. In addition, the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) also have their specialized units which come under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Some Special Forces work directly under the Cabinet Secretariat. Apart from these, Special Forces have been created at the state level primarily for counterterrorism. Maharashtra has taken lead in this regard.

A brief overview of the existing Special Forces in India

  • The Indian Army has PARA (SF) PARA (Airborne) battalions for surveillance, target designation, counterterrorism, out-of-area contingencies, surgical strikes, and hit-and-run operations.
  • The Indian Navy has the Marine Commando Force (MCF), also known as MARCOS, is a Special Forces unit that was raised by the Indian Navy in 1987 for direct action, special reconnaissance, amphibious warfare, and counterterrorism. An elite special operations unit that is strictly kept out of the public eye by the Navy, the MARCOS is capable of carrying operations in all the three domains—air, sea and land—though maritime missions are their specialization.
  • The latest to become a part of military Special Forces are the Garuds of IAF. The force was established in 2004 and has been organized on the lines of the para commandos of the Indian Army.

Special Forces under MHA

  • National Security Guard (NSG) – NSG was raised on 16th October 1985 as a Federal Contingency Force under MHA to tackle all facets of terrorism in the country. Thus, the primary role of this force is to combat terrorism in all forms.
  • Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – per the approval of GoI, Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (CoBRA) force for guerrilla/jungle warfare-type operations for dealing with extremists, insurgents, etc., has been set up.

Special Forces under the Cabinet Secretariat

  • Special Protection Group (SPG) – The SPG is the most elite, nodal protection agency of the Government of India. In the wake of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the government set up the SPG on 30 March 1985. On 2 June 1988, the SPG Act was passed by Parliament. The SPG Act, 1988 provides for the constitution and regulation of an armed force of the Union for providing proximate security to the Prime Minister of India and former prime ministers of India and members of their immediate families and for matters connected therewith.
  • Special Frontier Force (SFF) – SFF was the first Special Force of independent India. Special Frontier Force or Establishment 22 (pronounced Two-Two), created in the aftermath of the 1962 India–China War, had mostly exiled Tibetans for ‘behind-enemy-lines activities’ in China in the event of a war. The main mission of SFF was, and remains, stirring up guerrilla operations against China in Tibet.

Challenges before Special Forces

  • Lack of Centralized Command Structure-since time is at a premium when it comes to special operations, decisions have to be made fast. This brings us to the need for effective and secure command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) support for Special Forces operations.
  • Internal Security Duties-The distinction between internal and external challenges is often blurred as nations increasingly resort to proxy wars, and non-state actors transcend national boundaries.
  • Political Will-Special Forces operations demand political will at the national level.
  • Intelligence Apparatus Synchronization- The success of any mission is directly proportional to the quality of actionable intelligence input, both in technical and manpower terms, provided by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), R&AW, National Investigation Agency (NIA), IB, and DIA. India’s intelligence capacities are still deficient in two critical aspects, purposeful integration and accountability.
  • Equipment for Special Forces-limited night fighting capabilities still remains a critical gap area. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that Special Forces are also about the quality of human beings and not just about machines and gadgets.
  • Human Resource (HR) Issues-Lack of quality manpower and officers, grossly inadequate language proficiency and inadequate advanced training facilities are some of the most glaring shortcomings of India’s Special Forces.

Conclusion

At a time when the battlefield has been progressively transforming from conventional to unconventional, the role of Special Forces is becoming critical in shaping its outcome. Conflicts in the past decades have established the primacy of Special Forces. Their role has evolved and, today, special operations are meant to be decisive and achieve strategic objectives. The Indian security establishment has also been taking notice of these changes and, by and large, making the right moves. However, it must be stressed here that our Special Forces require urgent attention of the government to fill some critical gaps in their functioning. The forces, on their part, will have to learn the best practices in the field from their counterparts operating elsewhere and apply those lessons innovatively and imaginatively in their own operational domain.

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