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India Evades Action on Special Forces Command

Oct. 8, 2013 - 10:23AM   |  
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NEW DELHI — The Indian government has shelved a proposal to establish a separate Special Forces Command, according to Defence Ministry sources — a move that drew sharp criticism from military officials and analysts.

The proposal to establish a Special Forces Command was made last year by a select panel on national security called the Naresh Chandra Committee.

A decision on the proposal was rolled over to the next government, after the general elections in early 2014, said a Defence Ministry official, who gave no reason for the move.

“The prime minister continues his silence and the defense minister has no gumption to take up for unified command of the borders,” said Prakash Katoch, a retired Indian Army lieutenant general and special operations expert. “The government of India may take a couple of months, if not years, to take a decision to establish a Special Forces Command, and even if they do, will come up with another white elephant with little strategic advantage.”

A lack of clarity on the role of the special ops forces may be one reason for the government’s indecision.

“The Indian concept of employment of special forces has yet to graduate from that of tactical in support of conventional operations to strategic employment, as the US [Navy] SEALs,” or the British Special Air Service, said Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst. “This will have to be a political decision and would require a high degree of strategic sophistication, which I do not think the Indian political leadership is displaying for now.”

An Army official said India’s special ops forces — which number about 10,000 troops from the Navy, Air Force, Army and paramilitary units — have been used only for conventional warfare and internal security threats. The officer argued the special ops forces should be used for strategic tasks, such as deterrence against irregular threats and asymmetrical warfare.

“Asymmetric war is not launched against the military, but a nation,” Katoch said. “Special forces must be central to asymmetric response, but in the current context, we neither have the political will nor even the military will, and hence have not been able to establish deterrence to this asymmetric war.”

Bureaucratic barriers also may have played a role in the government’s inaction.

“The Indian bureaucracy, which supposedly handles these issues, has neither the expertise nor the structure needed for the purpose. The reluctance to allow the creation of a professional body can only be attributed to the bureaucracy’s fear of losing their clout and turf,” said Venkataraman Mahalingam, a retired Army brigadier general and defense analyst.

Special operations will play an increasingly significant role in future conflicts, an MoD official said. The special ops forces are to be equipped with advanced weaponry and command, control, communication and intelligence systems, the official said. Sources in the Army, however, said there have been delays in buying specialized equipment and weapons.

“Everything is planned for, but we are not following the system of ‘packaged equipping.’ If an assault squad does not have the complete package of equipment as authorized to it, the combat potential will obviously be commensurately less,” Katoch said.

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