By Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd)
In the emerging world order a risen, responsible India is a global player. India also boasts of the second largest army and the fourth largest armed forces, however the Indian military continues to be a military force, whereas it should be a military power in concert with our rightful aspirations as a growing nation. In keeping with India’s expanding role, aspirations and security challenges the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommended Cyber, Space and Special Operations Command (SOC) in 2012. Seven years down the line the Government has finally sanctioned the raising of three divisions/ agencies to include a Special Operations Division(SOD). For some reasons the government has shied away from exploiting this force multiplier and decided to raise a SOD under a Major General, which is at best a half measure and will be detrimental to effective employment, deployment and exploitation of SOF. A major weakness in this interim arrangement is the lack of a lean, mean, agile and versatile joint force under a single commander empowered and keyed in to the national decision making apparatus . This can only be achieved by raising a SOC. It remains to be seen whether or not the SOD can make up the void in our national security structures carrying out the role and tasks of a special operations command.
The present Special Operations forces are service specific and more often than not, there is competition and conflict of interests, rather than cooperation and coordination, be it their roles and tasks, equipping, training and command and control. The poor military response to the Pathankot terror attack is indicative of the conflict of interests. On the positive side the unprecedented and highly successful ‘ Surgical Strikes’ of September 2016 are testimony to the professionalism of the PARA SF, as also that when required multiple organs of the government can function in a synergised effort. The SOC was envisaged to enhance the capacity and capabilities by providing formal structures to execute special operations at the strategic level. The SOC was also to be self sustaining and have requisite interface with various agencies and ministries like MEA , MHA, Intelligence agencies etc. The truncated SOD will certainly lack these capabilities and the say at the decision making level which is an imperative to fully exploit the SOF. More importantly the SOC was also to have a dedicated procurement and acquisition cell to cater for the specific requirements of the SF with requisite powers. The weapons and equipment requirements of SF are critical and are not met through normal procedures which are lethargic and lengthy.
There is a definite and defining need of joint special forces structures and forces capable of delivering in critical situations be it ‘ Surgical Strikes’ or as a net security provider in the region and beyond. Existing SOF include nine Parachute (Special Forces) Battalions, five Parachute Battalions Air Borne, a 1200 strong Marine Commando Force (MARCOS) organised on the concept of the US Marines and a 1000 strong IAF Garuds, likely to grow to 10,000 to ensure security of Air Force bases (post Pathankot), as per some media reports . The NSG and the Special Group manned and led by the Army for internal security and hostage rescue are under the MHA.These are all elite forces, where every man is a volunteer, highly trained and motivated. The Special forces are among the most battle hardened and combat rich force equal to if not better than the best in the world. However what they lack is formal structure keyed into the apex levels of decision making. A void which could have been corrected by raising a command. It remains to be seen as to what shape the SOD under its dynamic leader Major General Ashok Dhingra the finest SF Commando, a battle hardened soldier with exceptional experience in Special Operations will take. He however will have a challenging task at hand integrating the men of the three services, and ensuring the watered down Command is battle ready and effective to meet the emerging security challenges.
The SOD now being raised is likely to be manned by 3000 trained and ready SF commandos of the three services. The SOF play a critical role in ensuring national security, in keeping with the future and emerging security challenges. The SOD should now prepare to counter threats in the multidomain warfare, linear wars being only a subset of multidomain wars.. The role of the SOD to meet and mitigate these threats that undermine India’s strategic interests needs to be defined. The likely roles assigned to the SOD in pursuance of the national security objectives would be power projection and intervention to safeguard our national interests and assets in the region. Assistance to friendly Foreign Countries (FFC) albeit on invitation, HADR and to augment the war effort. During peace, or rather no war no peace the SOD will be the first responder to any emerging or impending threat to our national interest in the region. The scenarios for its employment could include hostage rescue of Indian nationals and diplomats, evacuation of Indian nationals, reinforcement or assist in evacuation of United Nations Peacekeeping Missions, assist FFC from threats by inimical elements within, albeit on invitation, assist in HADR missions in the region and beyond and capacity building of Armed Forces of FFC. An empowered SOD should also be a credible ‘threat in being’ contributing to war prevention. ‘Surgical Strikes’ may be executed by the Theater Commands or the SOD depending on the desired politico – military end state. Given the envisaged roles and tasks the SOD has to have a direct access to the national decision making body (CCS) in times of crisis and strategic missions.
The Special operations division has now to live up to the challenges and deliver.
(The author is former DGMO and Colonel of The Parachute Regiment. Views expressed are personal.)