An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 25 March 2006

Special Forces are the flavour of the times and all the three services are doing their own thing and going their own way, hoping the nation will have tactical special forces ready for action in time of need. There is little thinking yet on Strategic Special Forces which link with intelligence, like the SAS or Foreign Legion. RAW had suggested them years ago when the LTTE problem was threatening India, but it seems to have died a natural death as Services support was not forthcoming. The lesson was that this game of ‘special forces’ is an Armed Forces function. However on inter Service matters this independent way is how most planning has progressed and so there is little MOD can do, because it too is without a cohesive CDS type of Joint Op Doctrine yet.

The Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt is himself a decorated army officer and has seen action and probably appreciates the trend, but he would never tread on the operational shoes of the Chiefs. He would expect them to work it out by themselves. Finances, policies internal and foreign, rules, acquisitions and promotions are his main purview and that is enough to keep him occupied and he seems to be doing a good job. The paramilitary forces are also raising some sort of Intelligence wings of Special Forces including women, now that funds are aplenty and training abroad is easy. FFE is easily available.

Marine Commandos in action!

The Navy has Marcos (Marine Commandoes), and some are trained in USA as SEALs –– naval clearance divers are already trained for sabotage and the Navy in collusion with Larsen and Tubro and DRDO are pursuing midget submarines called Chariots to replace the older ones the Navy got from Italy, mainly for training. The Army saw the need during OP Parakaram and is converting some Para battalions into Special Forces with special equipment and the Army Chief has taken personal interest. The Air Force under the guise of air field protection has raised Garuds.

A seminar was held by CLAWS some months ago and a book was recently released on the subject and the Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) as he heads the IDS, tri-Service Strategic Forces (nuclear) Command and the regional Andaman and Nicobar Command, which now has a Navy Vice Admiral A K Singh as its head. In due course the armed forces may well go in for a Special Forces Command (SFC) tasked with planning and executing "irregular" warfare deep behind enemy lines. Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said a proposal for establishing a SFC was being "examined" by the COSC but it was quite "a complex issue". Army vice-chief Lt-General S Pattabhiraman, standing in for the Army Chief who was away in Indonesia very pragmatically as he is known to be, added that something like the SFC could not be established in a hurry. All the three Services, as also the home ministry and cabinet secretariat, have their own Special Forces, which put together would number over 10,000 personnel.

The Army has seven Para-SF (Special Forces) battalions, while the Navy has the equally-well trained marine commandos. The IAF, in turn, has raised a new "composite commando force" called "Garuds" over the last few years. "It should be our endeavour to place our Special Forces in an organizational hierarchy and framework such that their employment makes an impact on the affairs of State at the strategic level or even at the grand strategic level," said Admiral Prakash. Calling for a restructuring of the Indian Special Forces, the Navy chief said they must be taken "out of the tactical domain" so that they could operate across the full spectrum of conflict in non-conventional roles. "In India, we have tended to treat the Special Forces as an adjunct to conventional troops, and therefore focused them at the tactical level to help attain battlefield objectives," he said. "Other countries employ Special Forces to apply calibrated pressure at precisely calculated points to achieve political effect and not merely battlefield victories," he added.

His full speech is appended and is newsworthy.

“Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, Director CLAWS, Lt Gen Pattabhiraman VCAS, and Ms Kalpana Shukla, CEO Knowledge World, ladies & gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to be here at this special function organized to release the book entitled "Special Forces: Doctrine, Structures, and Employment Across the Spectrum of Conflict in the Indian Context".

I happened to be present for the inauguration of the Seminar on Special Forces in Nov 2004, and recall the wide participation, not only by the armed forces, but also members of the strategic community as well as the media. I am therefore particularly happy that CLAWS has compiled the proceedings of the seminar and the papers presented, into what promises to be a very absorbing and useful compendium on the subject.

I cannot claim any first hand knowledge of Special Forces, except for a brief encounter that I had a couple of decades ago. In 1987, while in command of a frigate, I was ordered to embark a detachment of 10 Para from another ship at sea and proceed to anchor off Colombo. The mission was to keep an eye on the Presidential Palace and help evacuate President Jayewardene by helicopter in case things got too hot after the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord signed by Rajiv Gandhi. We lay at anchor just off Colombo, while the Para Commandoes, masquerading in naval uniforms kept continuous vigil. However, our hopes of high drama were belied, and after about a week we were sorry to see the Paras leave us without seeing action.

The subject of Special Forces has both relevance and importance in today's security environment, and this will be even more so in times to come. Let me therefore dwell just briefly on a couple of aspects which I feel may merit the attention of this knowledgeable audience.

The battlefield scenario has undergone rapid change in the past few years and combat will now take place between highly mobile and networked forces, operating in a transparent battle-space with long-range precision-guided munitions at their disposal. Warfare,as we have known it, may soon be a thing of the past because technology, rather than manpower has now become the determinant of battles. There are already indications that even the conventional battlefield may no longer exist, because conflicts will now, take place on different planes altogether.

If our adversaries of tomorrow, or their proxies are going to be non-state actors; terrorists, insurgents, pirates and hijackers operating at a sub-conventional level, then our response too, will have to be at the same level. In such a scenario, Special Forces will certainly play a most significant role, and perhaps even take centre stage.

In this context, we know from bitter experience of the past 60 years, that India cannot afford to let its guard down against external threats or internal subversion. Moreover, as a growing economic and military power, we now need to abandon our traditional inwards-looking attitude, and turn our gaze at the external strategic environment. When we do so, we will realize that our geographical area of interest and the concomitant responsibilities have indeed become vast and wide-spread.

Security challenges of the future are going to be more ambiguous, and more complex, and will require multi-faceted responses. We also need to accept that our adversaries are going to relentlessly try to erode India's power and economic status by posing non-conventional threats and by waging asymmetric warfare against us. We do not seem to realize this; but what we have been facing on a daily basis for a decade and a half is actually sustained asymmetric warfare. And SFs have a role to play in it, on both sides.

We also need to recognize that the response to challenges of such a nature does not always lie in the military domain. And here it is germane to recall the often quoted words of Clausewitz that: "War has no autonomous existence, except as an instrument of

policy, and every act of war must have a clear political objective." Regrettably, in the past we have not often paid heed to these words, either in the prosecution of our wars or in their termination. However, where asymmetric warfare is concerned, our actions must have a long political underpinning.

Ideally speaking, SFs should be capable of undertaking special ops at the strategic, operational or tactical levels; a key role being to provide information to assist decision making at the strategic and operational levels. In India perhaps, we have tended to treat SFs as an adjunct to conventional troops, and therefore focused them at a tactical level to help attain battlefield objectives. Other countries employ SFs to apply calibrated pressure at precisely calculated points to achieve political effect and not merely battlefield victories.

The two most famous Special Forces actions in WW II were both at a strategic level and had far reaching consequences. The first one was the rescue of Mussolini from captivity by elite German commandoes in 1943, to prevent Italy from capitulating to the Allies. The second one was the Allied attack and destruction of the Norwegian heavy water plant under German control in Telemark in 1944 so that the Germans could not produce an atomic weapon.

In India we have today, between the three Services, the Home Ministry and Cabinet Secretariat, SFs which are in excess of 10,000 strong. This constitutes a very significant national asset, and the organization of the structures, manpower, equipment & training, of SFs are issues which merit serious consideration.

The holding of a seminar by CLAWS and the publication of this book have contributed a great deal to this process by generating debate and discussion, and by throwing up new ideas and concepts, which I have read with interest.

While we may have over the years developed our own perceptions and concepts on deployments of SFs, we need to keep our minds open and look closely at the way others do things. We must therefore examine the doctrine and philosophy of countries that have highly professional Special Force units; whether it is the Green Berets, the SEALs, the SAS, or the Russian Spetsnaz.

For us, a subject worthy of study would be the role played by the Pak Special Service Group next doors. This group, amongst its other activities, has been employed in the 1950s in our Naga Hills, in 1971 in the erstwhile East Pakistan, in the 1980s in Afghanistan and of course ever since its inception in J&K. The SSG has all along been tasked for objectives which are certainly on a level much higher than the tactical. Over the years, four battalions of the SSG appear to have achieved results disproportionate to their strength.

The US Quadrennial Defence Review has just been placed on the Internet, and the section dealing with SFs makes interesting reading. While acknowledging the vital contribution of SFs during Ops Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the Review recommends the enhancement of manpower, acquisition of new technologies, and procurement of new platforms for the US SF. Amongst the salient roles, missions and recommendations are:-

  • Conduct of unconventional warfare in dozens of countries simultaneously.

  • Greater capacity to detect, locate and render safe WMDs.

  • For direct action, the ability to locate, tag and track dangerous individuals globally.

  • It is envisaged that SFs will build language and cultural skills specific to key areas in Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

  • Active duty SF battalions will go up in strength by 33%. It is planned to create a separate Marine Corps Special Operations Command.

  • A SF UAV squadron is to be created, and conversion of four ballistic missile submarines into special ops platforms undertaken.

This is just a glimpse into the US thought process regarding their SFs, and could provide some good road signs for us.

In the emerging strategic scenario, we in India need to take note of the words of Clausewitz that I just quoted, while undertaking a review of the structuring and organization of our various SFs. Demarcations need to be drawn between conventional,

airborne and Special Forces. We must consider taking our SFs partially or completely out of the tactical domain so that they can operate across the full spectrum of conflict in non-conventional roles.

And finally, it should be our endeavour to place the SFs in an organizational hierarchy and framework such that their employment makes an impact on the affairs of State at the strategic level or even at the grand strategic level.

Thank you. Jai Hind.

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