Military & Aerospace

Optimising the Potential of Special Forces
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Issue Vol. 28.2 Apr-Jun 2013 | Date : 08 Jul , 2013

Interestingly, Pakistan has double-crossed the US all these years under the promise that her rogue proxies will not attack the US mainland. She promises China the same even while giving sanctuary to a 320-strong hardcore Uighur unit owing allegiance to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement.

India’s inability to establish an irregular deterrent has led Pakistan to high levels of arrogance…

India has been shy of deploying Special Forces abroad other than in conventional war. The exception was as part of the IPKF besides UN missions. No other country sends Special Forces as whole units and sub-units on UN missions. Our army was sending Special Forces units to UN out of turn as recognition of those that had earned three or more Chief’s Unit Citations. It was in recognition of their operational excellence and to give all ranks a chance to earn financial reward in terms of the ‘foreign allowance’ they would earn. But this stopped when the army got shall we say jealous of too many Special Forces units going periodically on UN missions and inadvertently curtailing the chances of routine turnovers. Stopping sending the Special Forces units/sub on UN missions was the right decision but instead the Special Forces should have been sent covertly into areas of strategic interest including on UN missions if of strategic interest, but this hasn’t happened. The military being out of strategic decision-making cycle does not look beyond the immediate tactical area, exceptions being Strike Corps operations and even those have limited planning within the ambit of individual sphere of operations.

Ironically, our existing Special Forces do not have institutionalised intelligence or dedicated airlift. There is no concept of integral support elements including civilian elements. At the national level, when we have failed to define a National Security Strategy in the last 66 years, where is the question of having a National Policy for the employment of Special Forces? The MoD has no separate institutionalised set-up for strategic planning and the NSA seeks advice from the NSC without any inputs from the military. The NSC itself is an advisory body with no say in implementation. The MoD has little experience in matters military but does not permit true integration of the military, especially HQ IDS with the MoD, and shuns professional military advice perhaps on account of false pride and/or fear of exposing lack of knowledge.

But the most important factor that deters the hierarchy from deploying our Special Forces abroad is the lack of understanding of their employment beyond direct attacks, raids and ambushes. The fact is that such tasks have gone onto the backburner and have been replaced mainly by politico-military missions that may not entail physical attack at all. This is not understood by the hierarchy. Our response to irregular threats has not gone beyond raising more and more Special Forces units. India’s failure to establish a deterrent to irregular war despite having considerable number of Special Forces has led to continuous glaring voids of strategic intelligence even in areas of interest in our immediate neighbourhood, right from the 1950s in Tibet to surprises in the recent past in Pakistan-POK, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, Coco Islands, Sri Lanka, Maldives and what have you, besides the numerous terrorist attacks orchestrated within India.

Growing inter-dependence and interlinking of terrorist groups regionally and internationally should be a matter of serious concern.

Special Forces do not create resistance movements but advise, train and assist resistance movements already in existence. They are ideally suited to control the faultlines of the adversaries without any signatures or with ambiguous signatures. That is what Pakistan is doing today through her proxies and China has joined hands to destabilise us internally. We must employ our Special Forces strategically to control the enemy’s faultlines. Admittedly, there may be a gestation period but certainly not that huge besides in the current age ideas and money can both be transferred electronically. There is an urgent need to develop publicised overt capabilities and deniable covert capabilities as deterrence against the irregular war thrust upon us.

The only way Pakistan will stop its proxy war is when it becomes apparent that Baluchistan, NWFP, Sindh, Baltistan can also splinter. There are just too many faultlines in Pakistan and China and one can actually pick and choose. Our Special Forces must be covertly deployed in all our areas of strategic interest. Despite the numerous faultlines within China, she is deliberately and directly fanning insurgencies in India. It is not without reason that a large chunk of the Chinese Defence Budget is being spent on internal security and this has been hiked considerably recently. Look at the faultlines in Pakistan: Balochistan, Sindh, Pashtunistan, Baltistan, the Shia-Sunni divide, dissent against Punjabi dominance and the military-ISI throttling democracy.

It is not clear how far the Naresh Chandra Committee recommendation for setting up a Special Forces Command has progressed or will be implemented at all. The recommendation to appoint a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee has set the establishment of a CDS back by years/decades, which reportedly was pre-conceived and given as a direction to the Committee at the very beginning either by the NSA or the PMO. To this end, we may well end up with a Special Forces Command as a gigantic set up under HQ IDS or even under the NSA, which will remain largely ineffective.

Special Forces have a central role in responding to asymmetric and irregular forces.

Optimising the employment of Special Forces would entail our Special Forces operatives must be trained for specific regions and deployed in all areas of our strategic interest or strategic surveillance, perception management, intelligence, psychological operations, training and supporting friendly forces, blocking external support to insurgents/terrorists in India, and controlling faultlines of adversaries with a view to establish irregular deterrent that may have to be demonstrated as quid pro in case specific countries continue to play rogue. These will have to be politico-military missions directly under the highest politically authority and mostly without reference to the military. Such forces should essentially be small but effective. The second tier comprising commando type of forces should selectively go for the jugular of insurgencies within India. This should not be confused with army deployment against all insurgent outfits.


A major portion of 21st century warfare is likely to comprise large employment of irregular forces though windows for conventional war will continue in the sub-continent. The cyber, space and electro-magnetic domains will remain active. The advent of smart and ‘no contact’ wars will, however, continue to be intertwined by continuous contact with irregular forces. Special Forces have a central role in responding to asymmetric and irregular forces. India needs to get on with optimising their strategic potential to shape the asymmetric battlefield in her favour. Restricting their employment to within India on tasks that can be performed by other forces would be wasting these strategic force multipliers.

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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

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is a former Lt Gen Special Forces, Indian Army

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2 thoughts on “Optimising the Potential of Special Forces

  1. Hello Lt. Gen Katoch, yet another brilliant article from you. Superb. I am an Indian living in the US and am amazed how the US govt including TSA, DHS and overseas forces work towards one goal – to make the homeland safe & secure. They would not leave any stone unturned including searching and frisking elderly and wheelchair bound old people. India on the other hand has been rendered ‘un-masculine’ (sorry to use that word) by choosing Non-violence and NAM as the state policy. One has to do everything to protect own house. India should start hiring massively to create a parallel force of smart educated youngters for subterfuge and covert operations in Military and Central intelligence and spread out this force in China, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pak, Bangladesh and Nepal under the MOD reads it. Please read and prepare plans to secure our beloved Bharat mata.

  2. The IAS has undoubtedly let the nation down and the MoD has wrongly advised the political leadership and their advisories lead no where but to chaos.

    Having said that who let the MoD with their nil experience have an upper hand. The MoD and IAS have always thrived to have an upper hand right from India’s independence. The 1962 debacle even put this in the right perceptive and highlighted the issue.. wrong advise and interference are not of much difference today..yet the difference lies in genralmanship

    In yesteryears the Karriappas, Thimayas, Maneckshaws and Sunderjees stood their ground…they had drawn a line from which they would not stoop low or under their leadership let the armed forces suffer due to wrong advise of the MoD.
    The chiefs of the armed forces cannot in this case completely shoulder off the mismanagement of the special forces or their army! After all they are the chiefs and NOT mere liaison officers acting like a messenger passing down wrong dictats of the MoD down the force’s throats.
    Who has stopped them from saying a ‘No’. The argument that India is led by a democratic ruling does not cut ice. Does the chairman of Tatas or Reliance or any small company go against democracy wherein and when he puts a stop to ilL advising. More so if that argument was true then how did sunderjee put his foot down during the chinese fiasco in the 80s or maneckshaw, earlier.
    The fact is that the chiefs have shown a fear to the MoD,IAS and that fear has been taken advantage off. Let us see which PM or President or plitical party stands against a chief who stands up to the MoD and addresses the nation if the MoD is adamant in thrusting upon india decissions that are a threat to Indias security.
    Let the chiefs start now as the iron is hot with the nation acknowledging the armys role and IAS failure in the recent floods in North India… the civilian populous wants a leader in their armed forces..they have enough yes men in the police force and every other segment

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