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Control Issue Stymies Creation of Indian Spec Ops Command

January 17, 2016 (Photo Credit: Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI — Lack of agreement on who would control a separate Indian Special Forces Command (SFC) has stymied creation of the unit despite the military's urgent desire for one. 

Army officers said that Defence Ministry bureaucrats do not want to relinquish control of the SFC to the defense forces, while MoD bureaucrats claim inter-service rivalry regarding control of the SFC is the primary problem.

The Jan. 2 terrorist attack on an Indian Air Force base at Pathankot near the Pakistan border has opened a fresh case for establishing an SFC.

Whereas a special committee, the Naresh Chandra Committee, set up by the MoD strongly recommended a Special Forces Command in 2013, the previous government left the decision to the new government. However, the new government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains non-committal on the issue, said Nitin Mehta, a defense analyst.

Multiple factors are delaying implementation of the Naresh Chandra Committee recommendations, said Rahul Bhonsle, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst here.

"Institutional roadblocks are apparent where ownership of such assets is leading to inability to build a consensus on placing these under a single commander. Moreover, given the National Security Guard is under the Ministry of Home Affairs, placing the same under the Special Forces Command has become a major issue," Bhonsle said.

Other delays are a lack of understanding among the political leadership of how to use such assets strategically, and reluctance to create a centralized command-and-control structure for such a potent force, added Bhonsle.

No MoD official would say whether an SFC would be established, but a retired senior bureaucratic from MoD said there is rivalry among the Army, Navy and Air Force over which would take command.

"In setting up of an SFC there is no intra-service rivalry. The problem as I see it is it is not only lack of political will but more importantly not knowing," said Prakash Katoch, retired Indian Army lieutenant general and considered a specialist on special forces.

Stressing the division of opinion between the bureaucrats and the military, Katoch said, "The politico-bureaucratic combine has no idea how to employ special forces. The military in any case is out of strategic security policy formulation. This has been the case with every government."

The top person of the Indian National Security Guard, a special force, is an officer of the Indian Police Service and not from the Indian defense forces.

Currently, India's special forces are under different organizations and report to different ministries and heads. They are not integrated under a unified command to deliver the desired punch at the required place and time, Katoch said.

A lack of clarity about the special forces' role adds confusion over its structure and therefore indecision on its creation, he said. 

"The requirement of a Special Forces Command is to offset the great strategic asymmetry of both China and Pakistan having advanced sub-conventional capabilities while India is lagging behind. That is why we have been at the receiving end through proxy wars," Katoch said.

An Army official said special forces can be used for strategic tasks, including deterrence against irregular and asymmetric warfare, such as the use of proxy fighters.

Army officers said there is a shortage of essential weaponry and equipment for special forces. The shortages include lightweight, hand-held laser target designators; advanced lightweight, long-range global communications to call in multiple weapon strikes; intelligence and surveillance systems; specialized vehicles that can be air-lifted; devices to see through walls; hand-held electronic warfare weapons, etc.

"It is unlikely that India will have an SFC in the near future given the quietness by the government on the need to create a Special Command," Mehta said. 




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