Special Operations: In Your Face


July 14, 2011: Last year, the Indian Army decided to add a para commando battalion to its Special Forces. This caused an uproar among Special Forces officers, who believed that the new unit would not be trained or equipped to existing Special Forces standards. So the initial plan, to recruit troops from the northeastern part of India the new battalion was to operate in, was changed to instead take troops from the seven existing para commando battalions. But there were still concerns about the troops of the new battalion getting adequate equipment.

The Para-Commandos are one component of Indian special operations forces. Increasingly used against terrorists and rebel factions, there are growing complaints that the troops involved are not getting adequate training or equipment. This is an increasingly common issue for all the Special Forces troops, not just the para commandos. India has several different special operations groups and, each of these groups has a specific mission, and all too often, serious problems with the government bureaucracy.

Para Commandos form the parachute infantry of the Army, but most have been given additional training and equipment to enable them to carry out commando type operations. Seven of the ten parachute battalions are trained for commando operations, while the other three are just parachute infantry.

The Special Protection group are assigned the task of protection for India's Prime Minister and VIPs from terrorist attacks.

The MARCOS unit acts as India's Navy SEAL organization and performs special ops on the high seas.

The primary counter-terror unit in the country, however, are the 15,000 National Security Guards and the ones who have borne most of the responsibility for dealing with various rebel and terrorist groups.

The army has also created a force of over 7,200 commandos so that each of the 359 infantry battalions in the army has a twenty man Ghatak (commando) platoon. This gives each battalion some shock troops. Each Gharak platoon is commanded by a captain and contains two NCOs and 17 troops with special weapons and tactics training. The Ghatak recruits from the best of the regular infantry, and puts them through months of commando type training.

India has been increasing spending on equipment for its ground forces over the last decade, but these efforts have been uneven. Some of this has been caused by corruption. Like many other nations, India has long had problems with kickbacks and favoritism in defense procurement. But it's been worse with India, which ranks 87 (out of 180) in an international survey of least corrupt nations. India has responded with a major effort to halt corruption in defense matters, but this has stalled some procurement efforts. The end result of this is that India is under increasing pressure, from below, to honor promises to upgrade the weapons and equipment of the infantry forces. These troops have fallen far behind other armies, and the troops, and especially their officers, are not being quiet about it. But government plans to upgrade infantry weapons and equipment have not amounted to much. The troops are not happy with this.

While India spends a lot of money on its fighter aircraft, naval vessels, and heavy ground equipment like tanks and APCs, very little is spent on taking care of the infantry. This isn't unique to  India, it just happens that the infantry historically don't get first grab at funds within the military and are usually at the bottom of the list when it comes to spending in general.

The special operations forces have received new weapons and equipment, but not to the degree that their Western counterparts have. The regular infantry suffer lower morale when they realize that the special operations are getting better gear, especially compared to the often elderly weapons and equipment the infantry possess.

These differences are very visible to the infantry. That's because, eight years ago, the government attempted a stopgap upgrade effort. They spent $65 million to train and equip a commando ("Ghatak") platoon for each of its infantry battalions. The new platoons were intended to make the infantry more effective in dealing with irregulars in Kashmir and the northeast tribal areas. The Ghatak troops were trained to perform commando type operations (raids, long range patrols), especially at night. Thus one of the things the Ghatak troops received was night vision equipment. They also had more radios and additional weapons (sniper rifles, more compact assault rifles, day/night scopes). The Ghatak training enabled the troops to specialize in the more dangerous aspects of dealing with irregulars, thus making duty against irregulars less unpopular with the troops. But this just made Indian infantry angrier at the fact that they had ancient and worn out gear. They could see this every day when they encountered one of the Ghatak troops in their battalion.


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