Special Operations: India Seeks A SOCOM Of Their Own

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July 21, 2015: There is growing enthusiasm in the Indian military for the formation of a SOCOM (Special Operations Command). This comes largely because of the success the original American SOCOM enjoyed after it was created in the 1980s. That was followed by many other nations doing the same. One of the most recent was Israel in 2007. That is important because Israel has become a major defense supplier and military ally of India since the 1990s and the two countries exchange a lot military-related information and experiences. Indian officers and special operations troops are quite familiar with the success of the Israeli SOCOM.

The driving force behind all this was the success of the original American SOCOM.  A series of U.S. Department of Defense reforms in the late 1980s included the establishment of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). This was a major step up for the commandos. SOCOM was now a "major command," with a four star general in charge. The SOCOM commander had control over all commandos in the Department of Defense. This was a unique situation. Normally, troops from different services don't operate in the same major unit ("command") like this. But the commandos didn't mind. Some of the service chiefs did, as they saw their men as useful "assets" for their service. But there was another trend in the 1980s Department of Defense; "Thinking Purple." This meant all the services cooperating more closely and thinking about each other’s capabilities and problems. Combining all the colors of each services uniforms and you get purple, and everyone in the Department of Defense was encouraged to get with this program. Not everyone did, but the commandos were enthusiastic about the proposition. They had long noted that commandos had more in common with other commandos (from different services, or even different nations), than with other people in their own service.

 About two thirds of SOCOMs troops came from the army, which had their Special Forces, Rangers, Delta Force, psywar and civil affairs troops and special aviation units. The next largest contribution (about 20 percent) comes from the air force, who have several different types of air power related commandos and special aircraft units. The navy provided its SEALs and the special boat units needed to land them in hostile environments. The marine Force Recon LRRPs were the only commando units in Department of Defense that did not join SOCOM at the beginning. The marines finally signed on in 2005.

India has already adopted some SOCOM ideas. In 2012 the Indian Army was given permission to do something American Special Forces have been able to do for decades: buy whatever equipment they need, without going through the procurement bureaucracy. This move was in response to a recently leaked report detailing how corruption, and efforts to deal with it, have paralyzed a lot of military procurement, leaving Indian commandos without the weapons and equipment needed to do all that is demanded of them. These "fast-track" exceptions provide opportunities for more corruption, which in cases like this is seen as the lesser of many evils. At the same time the Indian commandos were not given a lot of money to get whatever they needed and there is a feeling that a SOCOM type operation would give special operations troops a louder voice in the political and media struggle for more money and less corruption.

Meanwhile the Indian Army has had one special operations crisis after another for the last decade. For example, in 2010 when the Para-Commando force sought to add an eighth battalion there were complaints that the troops involved are not getting adequate training or equipment. This was an increasingly common issue for all the special operations troops. India has several different special operations organizations and each of them have a specific mission and all too often serious problems with the government procurement bureaucracy. Para Commandos form the parachute infantry of the Army but have been given additional training and equipment to enable them to carry out commando type operations. A lot of the special equipment never seems to arrive, nor does all the additional money for training.

The Special Protection Group personnel are assigned the task of protection for India's Prime Minister and VIPs from terrorist attacks. For some reason these troops always seem to get what they need. This leads many Indians (military and civilian) to see the special operations procurement problems as the fault of self-serving politicians.

The elite MARCOS unit acts as India's Navy SEAL teams and performs special ops on the high seas. Again, there are constant shortages of equipment and training opportunities. Moreover MARCOS often does not cooperate with army special operations forces and actually duplicates some of the army special operations capabilities.

The primary counter-terror unit in the country is the 15,000 man National Security Guards and the ones who have borne most of the responsibility for tackling India's persistent insurgent problems over the last couple of decades. These fellows are constantly called on to deal with emergencies equipped only with promises of new gear and weapons.

Over the last decade the army has formed a force of over 7,200 commandos so that each of the 359 infantry battalions in the army could have a twenty man Ghatak (commando) platoon. While this gave each battalion some shock troops, it also increased discontent among the rest of the troops, who now see modern equipment up close and wonder why they don't have it (like most of their Western counterparts do). In many cases some Ghatak platoons didn't have it either, while others did. This uneven distribution of modern gear caused morale problems among the Ghatak troops. Another cause of discontent was the knowledge, often via the Internet, that commandos from other nations often had better, or much better, equipment and weapons than the Ghatak units. The last decade has seen accelerating development of new commando equipment, but Indian commandos feel like they're the last to get the new stuff, if at all.

India has been increasing spending on equipment for its ground forces since 2000, 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 high in international surveys of how corrupt nations are. To many Indian soldiers this seems to explain why they are constantly risking their lives using second rate weapons and equipment.

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 the Indians, it just happens that the infantry historically doesn'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.

Thus Indian special operations officers believe an Indian SOCOM would give the special operations forces more political clout within the government to get what they need before an emergency arises and the politicians start blaming each other, and the military, for not having the necessary weapons and equipment.

 

 


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