Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
The potential of the Special Forces (SF) is still not fully exploited in India, besides the famous Surgical strikes in the PoK post the Uri attacks there are limitless possibilities to what SF can deliver. Some US Army documents define in the operational context, SF units can be used for irregular combats, information support operations, physiological operations, perception management, training friendly forces/assets, cross-culture communication and ground preparations before mission launch; monitoring operational and strategic security environment and preparing Intelligence reports for the same. In a potential conflict, the Special Forces could be a game changer for both the sides. In a context of a Indo-Sino conflict the probable role of SF are listed here:-
- Special Forces are meant to be the eyes and ears of the divisional commander. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) passes through many unheld peaks which have not been touched by either side of the forces till now. Therefore SF can be helpful in putting reconnaissance over such unheld peaks followed by expeditionary operations whenever required.
- Neutralising forward logistics and transport links. The key vulnerability of the PLA in the Tibetan region is its logistics links which is sparsely located from each other due to vastness of the region. The rail and road network have to cover long-distances through tunnels, bridges etc. which can become an easy target for a missile strike and if not possible involving special forces to discretely deliver the task.
- There are certain places at the LAC where geological and other such physical features doesn’t allow to mount effective satellite reconnaissance over the Vulnerable Area/ Vulnerable Points (VA/VP). Since drone operations behind the deep enemy lines may not be permissible, the satellite imagery being constrained by the ‘revisiting time’ as India operates very less number of such IMINT satellites while the upcoming GISAT 1 satellite which can provide 24×7 reconnaissance may not be able to provide requisite quality images. In such cases the SF can be called to put key lines across the borders under constant watch.
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- The LAC being full of mountainous region, getting effective signals is a great challenge for us. This challenge mostly is on Indian side due to rugged location, the Tibetan region on the other hand is quiet a flatland which allows uninterrupted communication across most of the locations. It was reported recently that China has started installing 5G networks over the Himalayan region. It was reported that our troops barely catches an Indian network signals near the LAC while Nepali and Chinese telecom signals are easy to catch there, as said. Since the communications is the backbone of any military operation especially in the backdrop of network centricity concept the SF in joint operation with Corps of Signals can be called in to install signals terminals to allow effective communication links over the mountains. Similarly, they can be called-in to put tactical Air Defence Radars at key locations as well as the EW suits
- Puncturing enemy’s optical-fiber cable network that allows obtaining data can be a probable mission in today’s high-tech operations environment. Inserting malware pen drives in enemy’s classified network with the help of intelligence agencies so that information is sent back at appropriate time and in a way which is not detectable.
- Cyber exploits to be planted in enemy’s key military infrastructure like telephone exchanges, main servers of classified networks, radar installations etc. This would explode electronically as per our timings to make them non-functional. It was reported decade ago that in Tibet there are at least 58 very small aperture Terminal (vsaT) satellite stations located which must have been proliferated now with various parallel technologies.
“Subtle difference between psychological warfare and perception management should be explained… Integrated use of military force, political, economic, information and other non-military must be implemented with Special Forces operations.”– Maj. Gen. PK Mallick (Retd.) Has worked in EW, SIGINT, Cyber, IT and Comn field. He also had been an Instructor at the MCTE, Mhow. Staff tenures at Division, Corps, Command HQs and HQ IDS. Now a leading analyst having expertise in Cyber related issues.
- China has been busy in promoting village clusters near the LAC while the trend is opposite on the Indian side, due to lack of facilities and compensation policies by the government the villages are emptying out near the border areas which were called to be the eyes and ears of the forward deployed forces. It was recently reported by a media channel that China has started building villages near the disputed Doklam plateau including a bridge probably within the terriroty of Bhutan. One of the key roles of SF is to mount psychological/miss-information campaigns in the enemy areas. Our military history is full of legends where information/perception operations being tactically deployed provided strategic edge in the midway of a conflict, one such was the ‘Tangail Airdrop’ in the 1971 war by the 2 PARA where Pakistanis where forced to believe that India has airdropped a full brigade. The 2 PARA were subsequently the first Indian forces to enter Dacca.
- It was recently reported that the Army is now completing a proposal for its officers to study Tibetan history, culture and language on “both sides” of the Line of Actual Control and the “international boundary.” The SF can prove to be highly important for India to enable it to play the ‘Tibetan Card’ effectively, allowing India to exploit yet unexplored distress of Chinese rule over the people of Tibetan and Uighur region. Developing a class of mercenaries, assassins, nationalist uprising and what not? It is important to have exposure to Tibetan environment and people of the region for the special operatives. When we talk about operations beyond the borders we cannot miss on such operations in Nepal, Bhutan and other neighborhood due to many strategic infrastructure projects been taken-up by China in the region under its Silk Road initiative and other subtle linkages in some or other form especially under the backdrop of non-contact form of warfare. All this cannot be possible without effectively putting the SF in the picture.
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Its all in theory, very difficult to deliver in reality at least what can be said as of now. The role of Special Forces in India has still not been understood by many, some say it is still mostly used as a ‘room intervention force’.
This is another point to be made that most of our political hierarchy lacks strategic culture, most of them would find themselves handicapped to take better decisions in the midst of such an event, if ever the country faces.
Therefore, the role of military advisory becomes critical but for that also the military leaders must realize the potential of SF. In a recent talk given by Lt. Gen. Vinod Bhatia (Retd.), former Colonel of the Parachute Regiment and DGMO, he noted “…Some military leaders at the operational level optimize the SF employment, some cannot do it for various reasons… So if you want to really optimize the employment, maximize the employment and exploit the employment then you have to think really out of the box!“