Military & Aerospace

India's Special Operations Capability
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Issue Vol. 26.3 July - Sept2011 | Date : 09 Feb , 2014

The IAFs C-130J Super Hercules is a highly integrated and sophisticated configuration primarily designed to support Indias special operations requirements.

Deficiencies in jointness among India’s armed forces have been commented upon on many occasions. Kargil brought out some in stark relief and there was much soul-searching post the Kargil war. A Kargil Review Committee was constituted and its recommendations were found serious enough for the GOI to constitute a high-level ‘Group of Ministers’ on 17 April 2000 to “review the national security system in its entirety and in particular to consider the recommendations of the KRC and formulate specific proposals for implementation.” The GOM comprised the ministers of Home, Defence, External Affairs and Finance. The National Security Advisor was included as a ‘special invitee’. The GOM saw in its mandate ‘a historic opportunity to review all aspects of national security, impinging not only on external threats, but also on internal threats.’ As the scope was very large, the GOM in turn set up 4 Task Forces to deal with Intelligence Apparatus, Internal Security, Border Management and Management of Defence, each of these headed by eminent and experienced experts. The Task force Reports came in by 30 September 2000 and the GOM submitted its report in February 2001.

Visibly, very little or no action was initiated in respect of the interrelated subjects of intelligence agencies, border management or internal security after the GOM report. Whatever was done, only had cosmetic value. If any substantive efforts were taken to close known loopholes and weaknesses, as also highlighted by the GOM, then an event as catastrophic as the Mumbai terror attacks of 26 November, 2008 could not have taken place.

Indias capability to conduct Special Operations is severely limited at present.

Jointness among the services remains a chimera. The creation of the Integrated Defence Service, but the non-implementation of the Chief of Defence Staff have left the three services where they were earlier-on their own. For true jointness, planning and acquisition functions must be integrated. Till this day, budget allocation is on time-tested %age basis resulting in wasteful expenditure and lack of inter-operability. Future operations will be time-critical and real-time communications will be a decisive factor in the outcome of operations. Abbottabad is an example of time-criticality where the SEALs had to complete their task and exit before Pakistani forces reacted. That is why the USA has created a single-backbone C4ISR capability. What this means is that the US army, navy air force and the marines use the same communications media during peace and war. A single-backbone C4ISR can simultaneously process inputs from disparate sources like satellites, UAVs AWACS, sigint and humint to present a cohesive and consolidated picture to decision makers without loss of time. In India, however, each service has opted for different communication systems with the facility of interface. No single back-bone C4ISR has yet been planned. The time penalty in such a system could prove fatal, given that we operate in a nuclear environment.

The IAF has opted for the Super Hercules 130J as the preferred platform for Special Operations. The first two C-130Js have arrived flown India early this year and will be followed by the remaining four aircraft deliveries by end-2011.

The long time taken to identify crash sites of helicopters even in our own area in the recent past is indicative of dated equipment, technology and skills in this important aspect.

The IAF’s C-130J Super Hercules is a highly integrated and sophisticated configuration primarily designed to support India’s special operations requirements. Equipped with an Infrared Detection Set (IDS), the aircraft can perform precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions. Self-protection systems and other features are included to ensure aircraft survivability in hostile air defence environments. The aircraft also is equipped with air-to-air receiver refueling capability for extended range operations. The C-130J is ideally suited to India’s mission environment, which often involves operating out of austere, high-elevation airstrips in hot conditions. The aircraft is powered by four Rolls Royce AE2100 engines and Dowty six-bladed propellors. The Indian government decision not to sign the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), has resulted in the exclusion of high precision GPS and other sensitive equipment. The IAF may add similar equipment to the aircraft after delivery. India has the option to buy six more Super Hercules aircraft. The disadvantage of fixed-wing aircraft is that they require prepared surfaces to take-off and land. This then would rule out these aircraft from Abbottabad-like operations which require forces to be inserted into the area and then extracted. Helicopters are ideal for such situations. Indian Army and IAF have conducted joint training for these contingencies, but without reliable intelligence mission success would be questionable. Another facet that needs honing is our capability to carry out search and rescue of downed aircrew/SOF personnel from hostile territory. The long time taken to identify crash sites of helicopters even in our own area in the recent past is indicative of dated equipment, technology and skills in this important aspect.

India’s capability to conduct Special Operations is severely limited at present. The SOF is with the Army and Navy, while the delivery platforms are with the Air Force. The external intelligence agencies have no coherence. The DRDO is unable to deliver. The scientists control the satellites. Each agency communicates through separate networks. The components that comprise our Special Operations capability are lying around like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. These pieces have to be picked up, dusted and in some cases repaired before they can be assembled and employed. Who will do that job is unclear at the moment. Till we set the house in order our politicians and senior military leaders should rein in their jingoistic rhetoric. As our Raksha Mantri recently stated, we are in an age of transparency and the public at large should not be told we can do something when those in the know, know that we cannot. And even when the day arrives when we have the political will and the capability, it would be preferable to keep our lips sealed.

Note: Some inputs for this article have been taken from Wikipedia and some from earlier articles by the author.

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Air Marshal Narayan Menon

Air Marshal Narayan Menon

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11 thoughts on “India’s Special Operations Capability

  1. This so called Operation Geronimo was nothing but pure balderdash. The lid has been blown off it by none other than the celebrated Seymour Hersh. It was the Pakistani walk-in, that pinpointed the whereabouts of Osama to Americans. Even in subsequent stages, Pakistanis were clearly in the know, as to what was coming their way. Since one of their own military brass had ‘sang’, Osama away to the Americans. It is high time the bombast surrounding around this lore be laid to rest.

  2. Special Discussion on Pakistan Army Which They Do. We know that your interior conditions is not suitable but we will all time talk on pak army which they can handle all

  3. Respected Sir,
    The problems you have highlighted are indeed a matter of concern we are not even able to conduct cross border raids to destroy the terror training camps, the main problem is political will “lack of it” and ego clashes between the services, intelligence apparatus and buerocracy with everyone trying to score brownie points over each other but the main thing is political will and leadership ,the USSOCOM was the creation of an american politician Goldman and it was only after that the gradual imrovements took place” ROME was not built in a day “and this special forces capability also requires long term finance funding, leadership commited to the job and continous political support

  4. Alas, the incompetent UPA governance is close to an end. The lack of professionalism is from the Government body rather than the armed forces. Those responsible for India’s security in the defence department are not fit to be sepoys outside the parliament building. It is our good fortune that Pakistan is in a state of disarray. Judging from the current lack of coordination and unpreparedness in India, long after the Mumbai attack, if the enemy wanted they could pull-off a Mumbai-massacre once every three months while the bed-sheet clad ministers of India scurry around to find excuses. The citizens of India now demand an end to this. What is needed is a strong retaliation force to be readied for action should there be another Mumbai-like siege. Targets in the enemy territory must be identified with clear definition of engagement in a lighting strike similar to Israel’s actions against terrorists. The armed forces must also be prepared for a second strike, with much more devastating force should the enemy threaten with field nuclear weapons. Mr. Modi is the best hope for India for implementing such new measures.

  5. What were the chiefs doing when an PM undoubtedly from advise of IAS and MOD closed shop to Indian HUMINT?
    The Chiefs have to be woken up from their slumber of Postman-ship, of passing on un military doctrine thru the ranks. The same postman-ship led Malik and Tipnis to go on with decision of not crossing the LOC though not militarily logical and proved to fatal and not tell the leadership that had no intellectual jurisdiction thru the nil experience of military strategy and warfare in anyone in the political and bureaucratically class, that it was the military’s decision to cross or not cross the LOC and how to fight the war!. The Chief’s main job is to counsel the political leadership towards the right military decision and not to pass on to the armed forces the decisison based on political class.
    The Chiefs just cannot get rid of this responsibility and it is not a burden as made out to be

  6. An Air Marshall wrote this? Really? He mentions when “in 1976, the Israelis demonstrated their capability when four Israeli Air Force C-130J aircraft …”.

    As the C-130J version was not introduced until 1999, it shows what expertise he has (must make the Chinese & Pakistani’s very scared!)

    Another VERY POORLY written article on an Indian defence website!

  7. Absolutely true,there is also a need to setup a common command for all Special Forces, in order to enhance the efficiency.SFs like NSG,(51 SAG),para..etc all are under different department they have to be brought under this command(only one)

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