Military & Aerospace

Force Projection and Rapid Deployment Forces: Need for Reassessment
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Issue Vol. 29.2 Apr-Jun 2014 | Date : 03 Aug , 2014

Thus, in practical terms, our ability to influence events within the Indian Ocean littoral region and our immediate neighbourhood should be considered satisfactory. In addition, the ability to work as a part of a Multi-national Force, whether under UN flag or otherwise, also needs to be maintained to meet contingencies such as providing support to Indian Peacekeepers as was required in Sierra Leone during OP Khukri. For example, keeping in view the forthcoming withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, contingencies that may require intervention within the Central Asian Region in conjunction with other affected states in the area needs to be given serious consideration and capacities developed accordingly.

The most urgent and important issue that needs to be faced would be with regard to over-all command and control structures…

Thus, in our context, we need to ensure that we have air assets capable of covering approximately 4,000 km with standard payloads without refueling, apart from being capable of carrying out mid-air refueling. With regard to the Airborne Task Force (ABTF), keeping in view likely tasks and expected threats a mechanised and anti-tank heavy parachute battalion group with its standard components of artillery, combat engineers, communications, air defence and logistic elements would meet the requirement.

In addition inclusion of a Special Forces Team will further enhance flexibility. This air assault element must be based on the new generation of recently acquired air assets, the C-17s and the C-130s. In some scenarios, this force will not have the ability to sustain itself and hold the firm base it establishes, in all likelihood an airfield, for longer than 12 to 18 hours. The ability to launch a follow up ABTF along with a Brigade level controlling headquarter within 12 hours thus becomes essential. This implies that keeping in view routine administrative and training commitments an airborne Brigade of three battalions along with one Special Forces battalion must form part of the RDF.

As regards the ‘heavy element’ of the RDF, the option exists to have a suitably tailored infantry division along with utility and helicopter assets nominated and trained for the role. Another option could be to have one armour heavy independent Mechanised Brigade and one independent Infantry Brigade group organised and trained for an amphibious role nominated as a part of the RDF. The latter option would require maintenance of a permanent tri-services controlling headquarters that could assume control over an expeditionary force, if required.

A rising and more nationalistic China, growing Islamic fundamentalism along with the gradual shift in economic power to the Asia-Pacific region only add to problems…

Our Sri Lanka experience during OP Pawan does clearly point to such a requirement. In addition, this force must also be able to support own operations in other contingencies in conventional war and disaster management contingencies in any sector within the country including the island territories. This could also include internal stabilisation operations. In view of their being required to operate in high altitude areas there will be a requirement for some elements to be pre- located in high altitude areas to ensure that they are fully acclimatised for operations at short notice.

In terms of availability of assets, especially within the IAF and the IN it is fortuitous that earlier perspective plans have ensured that required air assets to be able to drop two ABTFs simultaneously is presently available or will be so by end of 2014 with the induction of additional C130s and C-17s. The ability of the IN to move up to one infantry Brigade with a regiment worth of armour for amphibious operations has been in place for some time and is likely to be enhanced within the decade with the induction of additional indigenous Landing Platform Docks (LPD)6 and Landing Ship Tanks (LST)7.

As regards the army capability while amphibious and airborne capability are already in place there is an urgent need to reassess the organisational and equipment profile of these units. For example, in respect of the Parachute Brigade, there is an urgent need for a Path Finder and Intelligence and Surveillance component being added. The parachute battalions need to shed the BMPs and replace them with wheeled All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) such as Land Rovers which should be able to mount the next generation of Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, 0.50 Calibre Heavy Machine Guns and Air Defence Launchers. The artillery needs 105mm or 155mm Light Guns while the engineer component also requires an additional increment to be able to get occupied airfields functional.

The artillery needs 105mm or 155mm Light Guns while the engineer component also requires an additional increment to be able to get occupied airfields functional.

However, the most urgent and important issue that needs to be faced would be with regard to over-all command and control structures. To ensure a responsive and effective deployment there is little choice but to adopt one of the controlling options suggested earlier. Ideally, the RDF should function either under the special Operations Command that is likely to be established at some future date or function directly under the Chief of Defence Staff as and when established.


We live in extremely difficult and testing times. Our neighbourhood confronts some of the most challenging and complex issues that directly impact the stability of the region. A rising and more nationalistic China, growing Islamic fundamentalism along with the gradual shift in economic power to the Asia-Pacific region only add to the problems that policy planners in the region need to deal with. While it is likely that economic strength, rather than military prowess, will be the real measure of state power, especially in the increasingly integrated world that we live in, military force will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in ensuring nations are able to maintain an autonomous foreign policy.

As India’s regional and global aspirations grow with its increasing economic clout, it will be forced to build up its capacity to project power in its national interest to ensure that the region is not destabilised by outside elements that may be inimical to it. The establishment of an effective and responsive RDF towards this end is inescapable. To be able to do so requires that India take a long hard look at its requirements and reassess its capabilities. It needs to quickly put in place structures that will ensure that its RDF is able to provide what is required of it so that in the words of Rahul Gandhi, “We stop being scared about how the world will impact us, and we step out and worry about how we will impact the world.”8


  1. Op Cit; Walter C Ladwig III.
  2. Bliddal, Henrik; Reforming Military Command Arrangements: The Case of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force;; 2011
  3. US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 1–02: Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2009), <>
  4. WALTER C. LADWIG III; India and Military Power Projection: Will the Land of Gandhi become a Conventional Great Power? Asian Survey Vol 50 Issue 6, Nov 2010 ;pp 1162-1182
  5. Robert Killebrew; Deployment: The Army Rapid and American Strategy: An Analysis; December 9, 2013
  6. Defense News, 12 Dec 2013;
  7. Warfare Sims.Com ; Indian Amphibious Capability, May 2009;
  8. Op Cit; Walter C Ladwig III.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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One thought on “Force Projection and Rapid Deployment Forces: Need for Reassessment

  1. Hi Deepak, Well any country having a Military organization (the worlds third largest) should have had such a mechanism in place; but sadly so it’s hardly there in existence. You and I know what is there. Our problems;
    The armed forces are not factored into your foreign policy.
    The Armed forces of the country are not in the loop of decision making as far as strategic issues are concerned.
    Our political leadership and the babudom that backs it is strategically bankrupt.
    The military leadership somnambulates on the issue of rapid deployment, rapid deployment capable forces and special forces.
    As far as the requirement of transport aircraft is concerned the Air Force gets its way in projecting the requirement of this class of aircraft without taking into account Strategic or tactical operational requirements. Even today the projection of Aircraft is rather absurd, a few C-17s and C-130s hardly add to the capability that is required to put a force in to the projection area. The whole system evolves around an Airlift capability within the country; basically it is logistic oriented.
    We should be working on parameters such as – Can We, How Far, with How Much and for How Long.
    For the deployment of RDFs there is whole mechanism that’s required, right from the Highest Office in the country to the diplomatic missions abroad. They need to be trained to handle such situations. We need a complex communication system for that. That doesn’t exist. So there is lot more to it than meets the eye. Interesting topic!! Regards….

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