December 5, 2022

The Hex on Special Forces – Part III

Source: Wikipedia

It is imperative for our policy makers to give special attention to the development and employment of our Special Forces. A national level policy for Special Forces employment needs to be chalked out, which can be taken on by the Special Operations Cell recommended to be established in the PMO. A plan to develop the AFSOD to its full capacity must be worked out, laying out timelines

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

The Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD) was established on September 29, 2018 amid a high media blitz. This was pursuant to the high-powered Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security recommending that the proposed Special Operations Command be headed by the Army, as one of its recommendations. The proposal was for a Command–level organisation, perhaps similar to the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). But the sanction came for a Division, in line with norms of the bureaucracy to never give what is proposed – same happened to the recommended Cyber Command also.  

The AFSOD came about with one Para (Special Forces) battalion, elements of MARCOS and Garud, and a tri-service headquarters which was initially at Delhi and was later shifted to Agra. The first exercise by the AFSOD ‘Smelling Fields’ was carried out on September 28, 2019 in Kutch District of Gujarat and a second exercise ‘DANX-2019’ followed in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the same year. It is ironic that four years after its establishment, the AFSOD remains in the same state; the organisation less than that of a ‘weak’ brigade and without essential dedicated support elements such an elite formation should have. Chanakya had said, “Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should act like one”. But it is naïve to think that our enemies can’t perceive that the AFSOD does not even have sufficient ‘fangs’ or teeth.

The AFSOD is under HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) but employment of Special Forces for full spectrum optimisation (counter-terrorism, cyber, space, information operations included) needs to be evolved at the national level, which will unlikely happen without the indulgence of the highest political authority – the Prime Minister. It would be prudent to establish a Special Operations Cell in the PMO to oversee the organisation, equipping, training, employment and monitoring of the Special Forces. The AFSOD needs to organise, train and employ multiple Special Operations Forces Teams (SOFTs) country and region-wise.

The AFSOD is under HQ Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) but employment of Special Forces for full spectrum optimisation (counter-terrorism, cyber, space, information operations included) needs to be evolved at the national level, which will unlikely happen without the indulgence of the highest political authority – the Prime Minister

It would be prudent to integrate 51 and 52 Special Action Groups (SAGs) of the National Security Guard (NSG) which are wholly manned by army personnel and similarly Special Groups (SGs) of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) that are also manned by army personnel, with the AFSOD since the AFSOD would have both external and internal tasks. The organisation of AFSOD should include a SOFT Group, in which the number of SOFTs could gradually be increased with initial focus on our immediate neighbourhood. Other verticals of the AFSOD should include a Support Group, Insertion / Extraction Group, Logistics Group, Intelligence and Cyber Cell, a Training Cell, and a R&D Group. The Intelligence and Cyber Cell should be linked to R&AW, NTRO, DIA and IB. The Training Cell should be linked to the SFTS and training establishments of the NSG and SFF.  

No doubt democracies like India have to manage perceptions that question the utility of force in a rapidly changing environment and society that is on the cusp of unprecedented economic growth. At the same time, India presents a fascinating picture of a vibrant and developing democracy with multiple internal fissures and external threats to her sovereignty. The inescapable requirement of ‘hard power’ in today’s uncertain strategic landscape cannot be denied. Therefore, it would be a mistake to write off the role of military power. India’s insistence that its force application philosophy revolves mainly around deterrence has led to India being viewed as a soft state.

It is necessary for India to give deterrence, coercion and compulsion equal importance. The contours of prevailing and future conflict scenarios indicate that Special Forces will continue to play a very important role not only in the entire spectrum of conflict, but also through covert operations in peacetime and no-war-no-peace scenarios. Therefore, it is imperative for our policy makers to give special attention to the development and employment of our Special Forces. A national level policy for Special Forces employment needs to be chalked out, which can be taken on by the Special Operations Cell recommended to be established in the PMO. A plan to develop the AFSOD to its full capacity must be worked out, laying out timelines. 

The hex on Army’s Special Forces requires to be axed. Today, Uttarakhand is being mentioned as the repository of military and security strategy because the NSA Ajit Doval is from that state, so was General Bipin Rawat (first CDS) and Anil Dhasmana who retired as Chairman NTRO on October 1. Also, the second CDS, General Anil Chauhan, who has recently been elevated from a retired three-star General, is from Uttarakhand

The hex on Army’s Special Forces requires to be axed. Today, Uttarakhand is being mentioned as the repository of military and security strategy because the NSA Ajit Doval is from that state, so was General Bipin Rawat (first CDS) and Anil Dhasmana who retired as Chairman NTRO on October 1. Also, the second CDS, General Anil Chauhan, who has recently been elevated from a retired three-star General, is from Uttarakhand.

General BC Joshi, who as the Chief of Army Staff established the Army’s Special Forces Regiment and HQ Special Forces, also hailed from Uttarakhand. The policy makers need to resurrect his legacy by re-establishing the Special Forces Regiment and HQ Special Forces. The manpower requirements can be easily met from within the existing 10 Special Forces Battalions and Para (Records) can provide the manpower for Special Forces (Records).  It goes without saying that the deep state and external pressure would try their level best to stonewall this but better sense needs to prevail.

The Army would do well to revise its Doctrine on Sub Conventional Operations; conforming it to future requirement; to include proactive operations to counter proxy wars. Any dilution of the Special Forces effort should not be allowed to happen. This should include reverting to six-month compulsory probation for volunteers to join Special Forces battalions. This six-month probation should also be compulsory for Agniveers retained by other units who volunteer for Special Forces. 

We must retain the airborne capability as a distinct entity, separate from Special Forces. All Special Forces personnel are also trained in parachuting, aside from other multiple special skills. To avoid the confusion between Parachute Units and Special Forces units, the latter should only be designated as Special Forces or SF, as had been done when General BC Joshi, the then COAS had established the Special Forces Regiment

At the same time, we must retain the airborne capability as a distinct entity, separate from Special Forces. All Special Forces personnel are also trained in parachuting, aside from other multiple special skills. To avoid the confusion between Parachute Units and Special Forces units, the latter should only be designated as Special Forces or SF, as had been done when General BC Joshi, the then COAS had established the Special Forces Regiment.

A rising India will continue to be faced with severe security challenges emerging primarily from its principal adversaries China and Pakistan. China wants to limit India’s strategic space with its perception of India as a threat to China-centric Asia. Pakistan on the other hand is propped up by both China and the US. Consequently India will continue to face the spectre of simmering insurgencies, proxy wars and terrorism including CBRN terrorism and threats to its land and sea borders. While continuing to prepare for full spectrum threats, it is clear that much conflict will remain in the grey and sub-conventional zone. It is amid such a conflict landscape that building of Special Forces capability with diverse competencies assumes great importance.

Successive Indian governments have viewed Special Forces for cross-border actions, leaving operations on foreign soil as the exclusive domain of external intelligence agencies. This thinking must change in rising India. Intelligence agencies globally are working in tandem with Special Forces. 

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow us on Social Media