Para (Special Forces)

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Para (Special Forces)
Para Commandos.jpg
"Balidan" Badge of the Para SF
Active1 July 1966–present
(54 years, 2 months)
CountryIndia India
AllegianceIndia
Branch Indian Army
TypeSpecial forces
Role
Size9 battalions
Part ofParachute Regiment
Garrison/HQBengaluru Cantonment, Bengaluru
Nickname(s)Shatrujeet (The Conqueror)[2]
Motto(s)Men apart, every man an emperor[3]
ColoursMaroon background, centaur holding a bow and arrow
Anniversaries1 July[4]
EngagementsIndo-Pakistani War of 1971
Battle of Chamb
Operation Blue Star
Operation Cactus
Operation Pawan
1995 Kashmiri hostage taking
Kargil War
Operation Rakshak
Operation Khukri
COIN Operation in Samba
Operation Summer Storm 2009
2015 counter-insurgency operation in Myanmar
2016 Line of Control strike
Commanders
Colonel of
the Regiment
Lt Gen Paramjit Singh Sangha
Insignia
Identification
symbol
Maroon Beret and the Balidan badge.[2]
Identification
symbol
Sleeve Patch

Para (Special Forces),[5] commonly known as Para SF, is the special operations unit of the Indian Army. It is attached to the Parachute Regiment.

The unit's heritage stems from World War II, with the creation of the 50th Parachute Brigade in October 1941. 9 Para SF, raised in 1966 as 9th Parachute Commando Battalion, is the oldest among the eight Para SF units of the Indian Army.

History[edit]

The parachute units of the Indian Army are among the oldest airborne units in the world. The 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was formed on 27 October 1941, comprising the British 151st Parachute Battalion, the British Indian Army 152nd Indian Parachute Battalion, and the 153rd Gurkha Parachute Battalion.[4][6] The Parachute Regiment was formed from these and several other units in 1952.

In 1944, the 50th was allocated to the newly founded 44th Airborne Division. In the post-independence restructuring, India retained only one parachute brigade—the 50th. This brigade consisted of three distinguished battalions personally nominated by the then Commander-in-Chief, namely 1 PARA (Punjab), 2 PARA (Maratha) and 3 PARA (Kumaon). During the Jammu and Kashmir operations of 1947-48 these battalions distinguished themselves with glory in the battles of Shelatang, Naushera, Jhangar and Poonch, and were awarded the respective Battle Honours.

On 15 April 1952, the three battalions serving with the Parachute Brigade were removed from their respective Infantry Regiments to form the Parachute Regiment. Since then the Parachute Regiment has grown to comprise ten battalions including Parachute (Special Forces) battalions. In 1986, 8 PARA became 12 Battalion, Mechanised Infantry Regiment, while 21 Maratha LI converted to PARA (Special Forces). During their short but eventful existence so far, the regiment's battalions have had extensive operational experience, and singular achievements, to speak of their level of professionalism.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, an ad hoc commando unit, named Meghdoot Force, consisting of volunteers from various infantry units was organized by then Major Megh Singh of the Brigade of the Guards. The unit performed well in combat, and the Government authorized the formal raising of a commando unit. Lt Col Megh Singh was selected to raise the unit which was originally intended to be a part of the Brigade of the Guards. However, recognizing parachute qualification as an integral element of special operations, the unit was transferred to the Parachute Regiment and raised as its 9th Battalion (Commando) on 1 July 1966. The erstwhile members of the Meghdoot Force formed the nucleus, and the new unit was based in Gwalior. In June 1967 the unit was split equally into two to form a second commando unit, designated as 10th Battalion, each with three Companies. 10th Battalion was mandated to operate in the Western Desert and 9th Battalion in the northern mountains. In 1969, these battalions were re-designated as 9 and 10 Para (Commando) battalions.[4][7]

In 1978, the 1 Para, as an experiment, was converted to become the first special forces unit of the Indian army, and was kept as the tactical reserve. Already a recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation twice, and the GOC-in-C Eastern Command Unit Citation once, the unit was originally 1 Punjab, which was later re-designated as 1 PARA (PUNJAB) and in 1978 was converted to 1 PARA (SF). The unit is well over 200 years old.

On 15 January 1992, the Parachute Regiment Training Centre along with the Records and PAO(OR), and the Para Regiment, moved to Bangalore and occupied the erstwhile location of Pioneer Corps and Training Centre. Bangalore is the new Key Location Project of the Centre.[8]

1995 saw the formation of the fourth commando battalion when 21 Maratha Light Infantry was selected to convert to special forces and slated for the Eastern Command. After a stringent selection and training process that spanned more than a year, on 1 February 1996, the unit under Colonel VB Shinde, was formally inducted as the 21st Battalion (Special Forces), The Parachute Regiment. The unit has done well in its short lifespan and is the proud recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation twice (1992 and 2006) and the GOC-in-C Eastern Command Unit Citation once (2008), as well as a host of individual gallantry awards. With the changing scenario in military operations and the need for more special forces units, 2 Para began the conversion process from parachute to special forces role, followed closely by the 3 Para and the 4 Para in the year 2004 and 2005. The attempt did see some success, but the reason it failed to achieve its goal was due to the stringent selection process.[citation needed]

1971 Indo-Pakistan War[edit]

The unit first saw action in the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, the first six-man assault team was inserted 240 kilometres (150 miles) deep into Indus and Charchao, where they carried out raids. The assault team killed 73 and wounded 140 on the Pakistani side. In addition, they also destroyed 35mm artillery guns of the Pakistan independent battery. They also destroyed an airfield. In Bangladesh 2 PARA (Airborne), which was a part of 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade, carried out India's first airborne assault operation to capture Poongli Bridge in Mymensingh District near Dhaka. Subsequently, they were the first unit to enter Dhaka. For this action 2 PARA were given the Battle Honour of Poongli Bridge and the Theater Honour Dhaka.[9]. In the Western Sector the unit was also involved in the Battle of Chamb[10].

Operation Mandhol[edit]

Operation Mandhol was a raid carried out by soldiers from the 9 Para (SF) to seek and destroy Pakistani artillery located in hostile territory near a village called Mandole. During the operation, six artillery guns were destroyed by a raiding team composed of six officers and around 120 soldiers led by Major C. M. Malhotra. The special forces raiders began their operation at 5.30 PM on 13 December 1971. They started off from Poonch and crossed the Poonch River. After they reached the Mandole village, they started searching for the artillery guns and eventually located them. The raiders divided themselves into six teams. Each one of the six team was tasked to destroy one of the six guns. Subsequently, an intense gunfight took place between the Indian raiders and Pakistan Army soldiers. The gunfight resulted in two Indian casualties and many Pakistani casualties, with some Pakistani soldiers escaping from the battle. Finally, the raiders destroyed all the artillery using explosives and returned to their base at 6.30 AM on 14 December 1971.[11]

This operation caused the Pakistan military to tweak its military doctrine by assigning additional soldiers for defending artillery guns. Pakistan Army officials, who came to India as a delegation after the war had ended, acknowledged the raid. Operation Mandhol is now a part of the syllabus at the Indian Military Academy.[11]

Chachro Raid[edit]

A series of raids were conducted by soldiers from the 10 Para (also known as The Desert Scorpions) at Chachro, Virawah, Nagarparkar and Islamkot during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. The objective of these raids were to hit Pakistan military installations located 80 kilometres inside hostile territory, disrupting supply lines, creating confusion and undertake important inroads into hostile territory. Two teams, codenamed Alpha and Charlie, trained for a duration of five months in skills such as desert warfare.[12]

During the raids, the Indian commandos inserted themselves 80 kilometres deep into Pakistani territory and traversed a distance of over 500 kilometres, attacking Pakistan military installations and positions. They completed the raids with zero Indian casualties.[12]

The raids began on 5 December 1971, when commandos from the 10 Para penetrated 70 kilometres inside hostile territory. The soldiers went into a defensive posture as they encountered heavy firing from Pakistani posts. The Indian raiders sent one of their vehicles rushing towards Pakistani positions, firing a LMG, to distract gunfire. This tactic was successful because of the cover provided by nighttime. Subsequently, the other raiders too opened fire and overpowered the Pakistani posts.[12]

Soon, a pathfinder team was assigned the task of charting a route for the Alpha team to attack the wing headquarters of the Pakistan Rangers in Chachro. The pathfinders used the cover of darkness to chart a suitable route and green-lighted the raid before the dawn of December 7. Within a few hours, the team killed 17 Pakistani soldiers, took 12 prisoners and captured Chachro. After this raid, the Charlie team exfiltrated out of the battlefield. Chachro was subsequently handed over to Indian infantrymen and the Alpha team proceeded further.[12]

The Alpha team moved towards their next targets: Virawah and Nagarparkar. They reached Virawah before the dawn of December 8, moving in broad daylight the preceding day. The first contact made by the raiders with the Pakistani soldiers was at 1:30 AM. Hand-to-hand combat between the Indian raiders and the Pakistanis ensued, followed by gunfights. Soon, Virawah was captured by the Indian raiders. The raiders then proceeded to Nagarparkar and captured it by the morning of December 8.[12]

Following this, the Indian raiders had returned to their base in India but were again tasked to attack an ammunition dump in Islamkot. The raiders reached their target at 5:30 AM on December 17 but found the target empty. Subsequently, while retreating, the raiders ambushed a Pakistani convoy, killing 18-20 Pakistani troops and imprisoning survivors.[12]

Operation Bluestar 1984[edit]

In 1984 the Para (SF) were involved in Operation Blue Star. They were charged to lead an attack on the Holy Site of the Sikh religion the Golden Temple to evict Sikh militants in Punjab. 80 members of 1 Para (SF) were given the task of assaulting two areas of the temple, one of which required divers. However, there were a number of setbacks as a result of inaccurate intelligence on the strength of the militants who were trained by Gen. Shabeg Singh (ex- 1 Para himself), operating in low light, the conventional manner of the raid, and the lack of incentive, all of which resulted in a mission failure. The diver mission was aborted after the first team got bogged down. The commandos accompanied by Raghunath dubey achieved their aims after a gunfight with militants that lasted hours.[13]

Sri Lanka 1987[edit]

The late 1980s saw the Para (SF) in action in Sri Lanka, as part of Operation Pawan. However, the lack of proper planning by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPF), and insufficient intelligence on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) whereabouts, caused the initial heli-borne assault on Jaffna University on 11 October 1987 to be a tragic failure. However it was because of the efforts of the Para (SF) that later led to the capture of the Jaffna peninsula, forcing the LTTE militants to take refuge in the forests.

Six soldiers lost their lives in that mission. Due to their superior training, the Para (SF) took refuge under a house, after they were misled by a youth who offered his services to help the commandos track Velupillai Prabhakaran but instead took them on a wild goose chase. They engaged the enemy for 24 hours and picked up all their dead with their weapons after reinforcements arrived the next morning.

After the failed assault on Jaffna City, the 10 Para (SF) participated in a heli-borne assault on the town of Moolai 23 kilometres (14 miles) to the north west in November 1987. More than 200 LTTE guerrillas were killed and an arms depot seized. In order to give the commandos battle experience, 1 Para (SF) was rotated home in early 1988 and replaced by 9 Para (SF).

This battalion was scheduled to return home in June 1988, but the tour of duty was extended due to a planned air assault into the coastal swamps around Mullaittivu. The mission was a success, in that it located several arms caches. The 9 Para (SF) also provided 12 men for the security of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka.

Operation Cactus 1988, Maldives[edit]

With the capture of Maldives, an island nation off the south western coast of India, on 3 November 1988 by the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) mercenaries, the army turned to the 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade to carry out an airborne/air transported operation to liberate the country and return power to the legal government. This operation had 6 PARA spearheading the mission. 6 Para flew in on 4 November 1988 in a fleet of IL-76, An-32 and An-12 transport aircraft. One team rescued the president, another took over the airfield, and a third rescued Maldivian security personnel besieged in the National Security Service HQ. Later 7 Para and part of 17 Para Field Regiment were also deployed to the Maldives. When mercenaries tried to escape by sea along with hostages, they were intercepted by the Indian navy. Thus, 6 Para, and the 17 Para Field Regiment conducted the first-ever international intervention by the Indian army without any loss of life.[14][15]

1999 Kargil War[edit]

In 1999 nine out of ten Parachute battalions were deployed for Operation Vijay in Kargil, which bears testimony to the operational profile of the Regiment. While the Parachute Brigade cleared the Mushkoh Valley intrusions, 5 PARA was actively involved in the forgotten sector of Batalik, and was awarded the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Unit Citation.

Operation Khukri 2000, Sierra Leone[edit]

Operation Khukri was a rescue mission conducted by the 2 PARA (SF) in Sierra Leone in June 2000. About 90 operators commanded by Major (now Lt. Col.) Harinder Sood were airlifted from New Delhi to spearhead the mission to rescue 223 men of the 5/8 Gurkha Rifles who were surrounded and held captive by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels for over 75 days. Just 90 Para (SF) forced 2000-5000 members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) divided into 5 battalions to surrender. This ultimately led to the liberation of Freetown.

Operation Summer Storm 2009[edit]

On 11 April 2009, the 57 Mountain Division of the Indian Army based in Manipur, Para Commandos along with the para-military Assam Rifles and State Police, launched a counter insurgency operation, code-named "Operation Summer Storm" in the Loktak Lake region and adjoining Loktak Lake in Bishnupur District, located south of State capital of Imphal. The first major mobilization of troops in 2009 ended on 21 April. As the troops began pulling out, an Army spokesperson described the operation as a success, disclosing that 129 militants, all belonging to the People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) were killed. The Forces also claimed to have located and destroyed five militant camps during the Operation and more than 117 weapons, including sixty nine AK-series rifles, forty-eight rocket launchers, and an unspecified quantity of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). No militant was arrested. No fatalities among the Special Force (SF) personnel or civilians was reported.[16][17][18]

Ongoing counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir and in northeastern India[edit]

External image
Para SF operators arrive to take position before a gunfight took place at a toll plaza in Nagrota, Jammu and Kashmir in January 2020. Three armed militants were reportedly killed during the gunfight.[19][20]

Paratroopers and Para (SF) have conducted thousands of counter-insurgency (COIN) operations in Jammu and Kashmir, Assam and the eastern states in India. Sometimes these units work with the Rashtriya Rifles (COIN force) in complicated operations. Since the mid-1990s, the role of Paratroopers and Para (SF) as a counter terrorism force has increased substantially. They are now actively involved in counter terrorist (CT) and COIN operations in Kashmir as an essential part of the Home Ministry's decision to conduct pro-active raids against militants in the countryside and mountains. Personnel include Para (SF), Paratroopers (Airborne), National Security Guards (NSG) and special units of the Rashtriya Rifles - a paramilitary unit created for counter insurgency operations in Kashmir. They may also include MARCOS personnel, many of whom are seconded to the Army for CT operations.[21][22][7]

Counter-terrorist operation in Samba[edit]

On 26 September 2013, terrorists dressed in Army fatigues stormed a police station and then an Army camp in the Jammu region killing 10 people, including an Army officer, in twin fidayeen attacks. The terrorists sneaked across the border early on Thursday, barely three days ahead of a meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan. The attack was on a police station. The 16 Cavalry unit of the Army in Samba district falls under the jurisdiction of 9 corps, headquartered at Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. The three heavily armed terrorists, believed to be from the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), were holed up in the cavalry armored unit's camp at Samba for several hours after they barged into the Officers mess, until they were killed during a fierce gunfight with 1 Para (SF) of the army. The bodies of the three terrorists aged between 16 and 19 were in the custody of the Army.[23]

Authorities moved commandos of 1 Para (SF) in helicopters to the shootout site. The Para (SF) commandos first carried out an aerial reconnaissance of the camp before landing to neutralize the three terrorists. The 1 Para (SF) had identified the exact spot during the aerial reconnaissance from where the intruders were returning the army fire. After landing, the commandos started engaging the terrorists in a direct gunfight, but in order to give them an impression that their exact hiding location had still not been identified, an abandoned building inside the camp was blasted. This made the terrorists complacent thinking that their hiding spot had not been yet been pin-pointed. They kept on intermittently returning army fire until all three of them were eliminated. The entire operation, from the moment the terrorists entered the camp until they were gunned down, took nearly nine hours to complete. The main worry of the soldiers tasked to eliminate the terrorists was the Army Public School situated some distance from the place where the terrorists had been engaged in a sustained firefight. Army men were worried about the possibility of the terrorists moving into the school and taking children and staff as hostage. For this reason, the operation to eliminate the terrorists was carried out with extreme caution and patience[24]

Counter insurgency operation in Myanmar 2015[edit]

Based on precise intelligence inputs, the Indian Air Force and 21 para (SF) carried a cross-border operation along the Indo-Myanmar border and destroyed two militant camps one each of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (K) (NSCN) and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). The operations were carried out inside Myanmar territory along the Nagaland and Manipur border at two locations. One of the locations was near Ukhrul in Manipur. The army attacked two militants' transit camps.

70 commandos were reportedly involved in the operation. The commandos, equipped with assault rifles, rocket launchers, grenades and night vision goggles, were divided into two groups after they fast roped from Dhruv helicopters just inside the Indian territory near the border with Myanmar. The teams trekked through the thick jungles for at least 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) before they reached training camps. Each of the teams was further divided into two sub-groups. While one was responsible for the direct assault, the second formed an outer ring to prevent any of insurgents from running and escaping. The actual operation (hitting the camp and destroying it) took about 40 minutes. Indian Air Force Mil Mi-17 helicopters were put on standby, ready to be pressed into service to evacuate the commandos in case anything went wrong. In its statement after the operation, the Indian Army said it was in communication with Myanmar and that, "There is a history of close cooperation between our two militaries. We look forward to working with them to combat such terrorism."[25]

The Indian Army claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties (158 reported)[25] on the attackers behind the ambush of the Army on 4 June, which claimed the lives of 18 Army jawans (soldiers) of 6 Dogra Regiment from the Chandel district of Manipur.[26] This has been noted as the largest attack on the Indian Army after the Kargil war of 1999.

Surgical strikes in Pakistan-administered Kashmir[edit]

On 29 September 2016, India attacked the strike targeted areas close to the Line of Control (LoC), where militants congregate for their final briefings before sneaking across it into India. An Indian security source said the operation began with Indian forces firing artillery across the frontier to provide cover for three to four teams of 70–80 para SF commandos from 4 and 9 Para (Special Forces) to cross the LoC at several points shortly after midnight IST on 29 September (18:30 hours UTC, 28 Sept.). Teams from 4 Para SF crossed the LoC in the Nowgam sector of Kupwara district, with teams from 9 Para SF simultaneously crossing the LoC in Poonch district.[2][16] By 2 a.m. IST, according to army sources, the special forces teams had travelled 1 km (0.62 mi) - 3 km (1.9 mi) on foot, and had begun destroying the terrorist bases with hand-held grenade and 84 mm rocket launchers. The teams then swiftly returned to the Indian side of the LoC, suffering only one injury, a soldier wounded after tripping a land mine.[2]

The Indian army said the strike was a pre-emptive attack on the militants' bases, claiming that it had received intelligence that the militants were planning "terrorist strikes" against India.[36][37] India said that, in destroying "terrorist infrastructure" it also attacked "those who are trying to support them," indicating it also attacked Pakistani soldiers.[48] India later briefed opposition parties and foreign envoys, but did not disclose operational details.[16] The footage from the strike captured by overhead drones and thermal imaging was released to the media afterwards.[27] It was also informed that around 40-50 militants were killed and many more injured in one of the surgical strikes. However, the Pakistan army dismissed India's claim, and instead claimed that Indian troops had not crossed the LoC but had only skirmished with Pakistani troops at the border, resulting in the deaths of two Pakistani soldiers and the wounding of nine.[28]

Organization[edit]

Para SF contingent marching on the occasion of Republic Day Parade 2020.

The Parachute Regiment presently has nine Special Forces, five Airborne, two Territorial Army and one Counter-Insurgency (Rashtriya Rifles) battalions in its fold. The regiment has tried raising new battalions to augment the strength of the special forces however the task has not been completed due to the tough selection phase. Furthermore, in the absence of a centralized command and lack of a centralized and standardized procedure for selection, even among the Para (SF) battalions, selection procedures vary. Meaning there is a different standard to get into different Para (SF) battalions.

In the mid-1980s, there were plans to take the three para commando battalions from the Parachute Regiment and bring them together under an individual specialized organisation, the Special Forces Regiment. However, after several logistic and administrative obstacles, these plans were abandoned, and they continue to be trained and recruited by the Parachute Regiment.

Para (SF) operate in assault teams, which work individually behind enemy lines, whereas the Paratroopers (Airborne) work in large teams and coordinate with other units as their role involves occupying large areas behind enemy lines. The total strength of the regiment stands at about 10,000, this includes five airborne infantry battalions, one Rashtriya Rifles and two Territorial Army battalion personnel, while the Para (SF) includes between 5,000 and 6,000 personnel. They have to hide their identity from general public.

The Special Group, a confidential special forces unit of the Research and Analysis Wing, recruits soldiers from the Para SF.[29]

Functions[edit]

  • Intelligence collection, special reconnaissance
  • sabotage of vital enemy infrastructure and communications through deep penetration and surgical strikes behind enemy lines.
  • Covert and overt/direct action special operations as part of the Indian Army's counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.
  • Hostage rescue operations within and beyond Indian territory.

The unit is tasked with missions such as special operations, direct action, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, counter-insurgency, seek and destroy and personnel recovery.[5]

Personnel[edit]

Selection[edit]

All Indian paratroopers are volunteers. Some enter the Para regiments fresh from recruitment, while others transfer in from regular army units.[30] They are put through a probationary period / selection process of three months for Paratroopers (Airborne) Battalions (5,6,7,23,29) and six months for Para (Special Forces) battalions (1,2,3,4,9,10,11,12,21 PARA), in order to be a Para (Special Forces) all personnel are first required to qualify as Paratroopers; once selected the candidates may choose to advance to the SF selection, which takes place twice a year in the spring and the autumn term. It is one of the longest and tough training in the india, the candidates are exposed to sleep deprivation, humiliation, exhaustion, mental and physical torture. Deaths have been reported during this selection process. The attrition rate is very high, and selection rarely exceeds 15 percent. Even though a candidate may have cleared selection, he is not formally inducted into the regiment until completion of the Balidan Padh. After training, the candidates are involved in active operations in a hostile zone for a year. Provided if the candidates survives the Balidan Padh, they shall earn the Balidan Badge and formally get inducted into the regiment.

There are nine Para (SF) battalions and soldiers are selected accordingly. An example of this would be the 10 Para (SF) who are also known as Desert Scorpions. The probation period for this is six month and the probationers are selected accordingly for desert warfare.[31] The 9 Para (SF) who specialise in Mountain warfare go through a nine-month course at the Special Forces training centre in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh which is followed by further specialised selection.[32][33] 1 Para specialises in mountain warfare. This concept of geographical specialisation was over time reduced and each Para (SF) battalion is trained to operate in various different terrains and climates.[34][35]

Soldiers of the Indian army volunteer for the course irrespective of rank.[36] Depending on the battalion, the probation period varies from three months, six months or nine months, with additional time for specialized skills selection. Over the probation period, all soldiers are stripped of their ranks, including officers, and are known as probationers or probies. During any day of the course, a probationer can opt to leave the course.[37][38][39][40] The completion rate is under 12-15 per cent and this slightly high completion rate is because many probationers are drawn from their regimental battalions.[41] Each Special Forces operative specialises in various skills such as weapons, demolition, navigation, communication, medical. PARA (SF) work in small teams, five to eight men, and are also focused on strategic reconnaissance, surveillance, target designation (RSTAD) Hostage rescue and direct action (DA) tasks and are selected and trained accordingly.[42] Those who complete the probation period and are inducted into the Para (SF) undergo further selection and training, but to earn the Balidan (sacrifice) badge, they have to further survive being deployed in active operations in hostile zones, known as the Balidan Padh.[43]

Four phases[edit]

A Para SF buddy pair on an all-terrain vehicle at a public demonstration in 2020.
Para SF commandos being extracted using a helicopter during a public demonstration in 2020.

There are four phases to become a Para (SF):

  • Basic military training - to start the process a candidate first must join the Indian Army and complete the basic training requirements, which vary according to the training center and prospective role.
  • Pre-Selection - this stage encompasses administrative procedures and the soldier applying for the Para (Air) or Para (SF) and the necessary medical requirements.
  • Selection (encompassing a selection process and basic SF training) - the duration of this stage has changed over the years. For the Para (Air) it was initially 28 days which became 45 days after 1999 and is now 90 days (approximately 3 months). The Para (SF) was 90 days long and hasn't been changed since. The intensity also differs according to the prospective battalion. Para (SF) selection takes place twice a year. Probationers undergo extreme physical and mental tests. The drop out rate is high. Those who fail go back to their parent regiment. Those who complete the probation are inducted into the Parachute Regiment. 10 Para (SF) selection: the probation for the 10 Para (SF) starts in the desert, with rigorous physical training being undertaken in desert climate. There is no training manual, so there is no specific routine. Probationers go without food for 4 days, they have to minimize water consumption up to 1 litre water for 3 days and be able to go without sleep for 7 days. A 10 kg sandbag becomes a permanent buddy for the probationer. Routine speed marches and runs of 10 km, 20 km, 30 km and 40 km with full battle gears are conducted. Probationers must be exceptional navigators in areas where there is no network signal, no roads or landmarks and sand dunes that keep shifting every night.[31] In Parachute training, candidates then complete a 3-week Basic Parachute Course at the Indian Army's Parachute Training School in Agra.
  • Advanced SF Training[44] - all those who opt for Para (SF) must first qualify for Para (Air). Although this is also a training phase, it is still part of the selection process. Here the soldiers undertake different kinds of training with various organisations overseen by the Parachute Regiment Training Centre and the Special Forces Training School. Training includes weapons handling training, land navigation and field craft training, infiltration, assault and ambush tactics, close quarter battle (CQB) training, urban warfare, counter-terrorism, unarmed combat training and various other courses across training centers of the Indian defense forces.

Training centers and courses[edit]

90-day probation[edit]

Some of the training during the 90 day selection includes:[37]

  • Day 1 to 35: The first 35 days comprises 'Physical and Skills Training'. This includes hours of rigorous exercises apart from other tests and skills training such as blindfolded team assembly, weapons training, demolition, navigation, communication, medical and cooking skills. Probationers are also taught animal handling skills,[45] insertion and extraction techniques and have to learn several languages. Many probationers are not able to complete this stage of the course itself and up to 20% drop out here.
  • Day 45: The 36 hour Para SF stress test includes 36 hours of exercises, maneuvers, insertion, extraction where the probationers stress capabilities are put to the test. It starts with a 10 km speed march with 30 kg battle loads and an additional 40 kg each. This is followed by various exercises included lifting buddies over long periods. This is followed by weight shifting. Weight shifting has three rounds, where various kinds of weights have to be shifted such as 40 litres of jerry cans, tyre trucks and wooden logs up to 85 kg in weight.[46] During the 11th hour, trial by water is conducted[47] - simulated drowning, allowing only the bare minimum oxygen over a long period of time. This is to test probationers panic reactions under stress. The hands are also tied later on and using ropes the probationers are pulled under water. It is well known that hypoxia and blackout due to lack of oxygen is common during this test. The first 16 hours are completed without a drop of water or food. This is followed by immediate observational skills and operation tactics under pressure which included probationary having to recall objects placed in their exercises. This is followed by 10 km speed march and 6 hours of continuous exercises. Finally practical combat skills tested such as placing ambushes, response to an ambush, making camps, stretchers and simulated evacs. This is all done at the last stage of the stress test under lack to sleep and extreme fatigue mainly to test mental endurance of the probationers under such conditions and how they react. The 36 hours stress test also sees many probationers leave.
  • Day 56: The Para SF 100 km endurance run is a must for all probationers. With 10 kg battle load and personal weapon of 7 kg they have to run 100 km. The time taken averages 13 to 15 hours. A known route the Para SF have used for this run is the hilly route between Rampur and Dakkal. The run is divided into four stages.[48]
  • Day 60 to 90: The final and toughest test is reserved for those who make it to this stage, the Counter Terror Operations. Not much is publicly known about this stage or the other parts of this course.

At the end of the 90-day probation period, the successful candidates receive and wear their maroon berets for the first time and go through a glass eating tradition.[49]

Training[edit]

The initial training to become a special forces operator is 3.5 years, the longest anywhere, but the training is also a continuous process. In the special forces, the members are imparted both basic and advanced training. They are taught specialised modes of infiltration and exfiltration, either by air (combat freefall) or sea (combat diving). Some trainees return to PTS to undergo the free-fall course, which requires at least 50 jumps from altitudes up to 33,500 feet (10,200 metres) to pass. Both High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) and High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) techniques are learned. The ability to use the HAHO method and specially designed maneuverable parachutes called HAPPS (High Altitude Parachute Penetration System)/AMX-310 to conduct stealth insertions over distances up to 50 kilometres (31 mi) is also perfected.[30]

For combat diving training, the commandos are sent to the Naval Diving School, Kochi. Like other special forces, these para commandos are trained for land, air and water.

The daily routine begins with a 20 km (12 mi) morning run. Infiltration, exfiltration, assault, room and building intervention, intelligence gathering, patrolling, ambush tactics, counter-ambush tactics, counter insurgency, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, guerilla warfare, asymmetric warfare, raids and sabotage, martial arts training, tactical shooting, stress firing, reflex shooting, buddy system drills, close quarter battle, tactical driving, advance weapon courses and handling, sniping, demolition training, survival skills, linguistic training, logistic training, trade-craft training is imparted by the intelligence agencies. The training drills involve live ammunition at all times which is a reason for fatal accidents at times leading to death.

Night and weapons training and field craft involving 20 km (12 mi) treks with 60 kg (130 lb) loads and live ammunition are conducted. Weekly forced marches with 65 kg (143 lb) combat loads with distances over 80 km (50 mi) to 130 km (81 mi) and quarterly night drops with full combat loads are also conducted.

In addition to this in-house training, the commandos also attend a number of schools run by the Army that specialise in terrain and environmental warfare.[30] These include the Junior Leaders' Commando Training Camp in Belgaum, Karnataka, the Parvat Ghatak School (for high altitude mountain warfare) in Tawang Arunachal Pradesh, the desert warfare school in Rajasthan, the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Sonamarg, Kashmir, the Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in Vairengte, Mizoram, and the Indian special forces training school in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh. These schools are among the finest of their kind anywhere, and routinely host students from other countries.[30]

Members of USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) and UKSF (United Kingdom Special Forces) have conducted joint training exercises with the Indian Paras. SOF members from the three nations routinely train at each other's facilities to improve military cooperation and tactical skills. This allows the SOF operators from each nation to see tactics and perspectives offered by other top-notch organizations. U.S. Army Special Forces also conducted joint HAHO training with the Para (SF) in 1992, underwater training in 1995, and anti-terrorism training in 1997. It is thought that the French Foreign Legion also has approached CIJWS regarding the courses taught by them. Para (SF) troops can also undergo a complete Combat Divers course, after which they earn a combat diver badge.[50]

They are also experienced in conducting SHBO (special heli-borne operations) and typically employ Cheetahs, MI-8/MI-17 or HAL (Dhruv) helicopters for this purpose.

Joint exercises with other nations[edit]

Para SF with US special forces during Vajraprahar 2019
Para SF train alongside US special forces during Vajra Prahar 2018

The Para (SF) conduct a series of joint exercises, named Vajra Prahar, with the United States Army every year, in which about 100 personal from the US and Indian special forces participate.[51] INDRA is a series of joint exercise with Russian special forces,[52] and operation Sampriti is the name for joint exercises with Bangladeshi special forces.[53] Para (SF) also conducts exercises and training with the special forces of Israel.[54] The Ajeya Warrior is a series of exercises with regular infantry units of the UK (as the UK's special forces are highly classified).[55] Indian special forces also conduct exercises with forces of the following 16 friendly countries: the United States, France, the UK, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives, Seychelles, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.[56]

International competitions[edit]

Personnel from the Para (SF) have participated in international competitions like Airborne Africa, Cambrian Patrol. This exercise was designed to test the endurance, combat efficiency, and combat readiness of the special forces community. The regiment has a record of highest tally wins in both these exercises that is hosted annually ever since their participation was inducted in the competition hosted by Botswana in Africa’s Kalahari Desert from June 8–10, 2002, in which 10 Para (SF) participated. Special forces from other nations like the Special Air Service of the UK and the Green Berets of the US also participated.[57][58]

In 2014 a team from the Indian army won the gold medal out of the 140 teams that participated[citation needed]

Influence on foreign units[edit]

The Para SF has provided training to special forces from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. In December 2013, 60 Afghan special forces were trained by the 10 Para (SF) at the Thar Desert. A month earlier, the Tajikistani special forces had undergone training.[59]

Equipment[edit]

The following equipment are reportedly used by the Para (SF):

Small Arms[edit]

Transport[edit]

Insignia[edit]

Para (SF) personnel, like other parachute troops in the Indian military, wear a maroon beret. In addition, they wear a "Special Forces" tab on each shoulder. Personnel who serve in the Para (SF) are allowed to wear the "Balidan" (Sacrifice) patch on their right pocket below the name plate, which is similar to the SAS beret insignia; only para commandos are allowed to wear the patch. Para (SF) personnel may grow beards, as this allows them to blend in with the civilian population, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. The insignia on their beret is drawn from the near identical insignia of the British Special Air Service.

Gallantry awards[edit]

Maha Vir Chakra[edit]

  • 1972, Lieutenant Colonel Swai Bhawani Singh of 10 Para (Special Forces) for the capture of large areas of Chachro and Virawah in 1971.[75]

Ashok Chakra[edit]

  • 2009, (Posthumous) Major Mohit Sharma of 1st Para (Special Forces) for Counter-insurgency Operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 2009.[76]
  • 2016, (Posthumous) Lance Naik Mohan Nath Goswami of 9 Para (Special Forces) for Counter-insurgency Operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 2016.[77]

Kirti Chakra[edit]

Shaurya Chakra[edit]

  • 1984, Lt. General (then Major) Prakash Chand Katoch of 1 Para (Special Forces) was the Team Leader of the SF group tasked with the capture of Darshani Deori in Operation Blue Star, was awarded for courage and leading his men from the front despite multiple bullet wounds.[82]
  • 2016, Captain Pawan Kumar of 10 Para (Special Forces) for his courage and selfless service to the nation. In 2016 militants captured an EDI building in Pampore with more than 100 civilians- Kumar led his team from the front & was the first to enter & establish foothold of the army in the building. [83] [84]where he not only killed the militants but also set the stage for the elimination of remaining terrorists.[85]
  • 2017, Lieutenant Colonel (then major now promoted) SS Vijay Karthikeya varma of 21 Para (Special Forces) for killing an A++ category militant leader without any soldier casualty at an undisclosed location in central Kashmir in 2017.[86][87]
  • 2019, Naib Subedar Anil Kumar Dahiya of 1 Para (Special Forces) for killing three terrorists, during a covert strike along the Line of Control in 2018.[88]

In popular culture[edit]

Para SF have been portrayed in popular media such as-

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Gen. P. C. Katoch, Saikat Datta (2013). India's Special Forces: 1: History and Future of Special Forces. VIJ Books (India) Pty Ltd. ISBN 9789382573975
  • Col V S Yadav. (2012) Employment of Special Forces: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future. Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (New Delhi). ISBN 9789381411698

External links[edit]