Majority of the Special Forces have to operate by stealth, in small groups and in enemy territory, involving covert operations
Special Forces (SFs) are elite units who are specially selected, and super trained to carry out dirty and dangerous mission in enemy territory. SFs can be from the army, navy and the air force. More than 90 countries have SFs on their order of battle. This article refers to only army SFs like the US Army SFs (popularly called Green Beret) and India’s Para Commandoes. US also has US Rangers which come directly under the US Army while US Army SFs come under the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). In India the SFs of the Armed Forces are also grouped under a single command.
Majority of the SFs have to operate by stealth, in small groups and in enemy territory, involving covert operations. Their broad role can include unconventional warfare; counter-insurgency; special reconnaissance; counter-terrorism; information operations; counterproliferation of weapon of mass destruction; security force assistance; hostage/POW/civilian rescue and many more. Information Operations, also called influence operations, are the integrated employment of the core capabilities of electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception and operations security in synergy with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp the adversaries. SFs have to be ready to be deployed at short notice; train in junior leadership to lead small squads and are prepared to use various means to infiltrate into dangerous and hostile territory. Most of the countries train them as para commandoes but some like the US also train them in SCUBA, sniper, jumpmaster (expert para troopers who train others in para jumping) and foreign languages. Every country designs the training as per the projected role.
The key challenges and solutions for their role are:
Pre-selection. In addition to Basic Combat Training, soldiers must have completed Advanced Individual Training and US Army Airborne School (Para trooper) to be eligible for SFs training.
Special Operations Preparation Course. The duration of this course is two weeks which prepares potential Green Berets for Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and, thus focuses heavily on physical fitness and proficiency in land navigation.
SFs Assessment and Selection. This is Phase I, which is designed to test survival skills and places an even stronger emphasis on intense physical and mental training.
This course consists of five phases (Phase II-VI) lasting approximately 61 weeks. Each phase is designed to foster an expertise in small unit tactic; advanced SFs tactics; survival skills; language and cultural training; unconventional warfare; survival, escape, resistance and evasion (SERE) and advanced combat survival tactics. During the Military Occupation Speciality (MOS) Qualification Phase (III), training is imparted for the newly assigned SFs role. Training for this phase lasts about 16 weeks, and covers additional language training, SFs common tasks, Advanced Special Operations Techniques (ASOT) and interagency operations.
Most of the countries train SF as para commandos but some like the US also train them in SCUBA, sniper and foreign languages. Every country designs the training as per the projected role.
Collective Training (Robin Sage). Robin Sage (Phase IV) is the training phase that serves as the litmus test for soldiers hoping to earn the Green Beret. Candidates are organised into squads and inserted into a fictional country known as Pineland which is rife with political turmoil, and soldiers must navigate the region and complete a specified mission.
Language and Culture. During this 25-week phase (Phase V), candidates will fine-tune their skills in the language to which they have been assigned.
Graduation Phase. All of the major work and training is completed by phase VI which involves a week of out-processing. Candidates will finally become member of the elite SFs (Green Beret).
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan saw the use of several extremely effective SFs units, including ‘Task Force Dagger’ (Task Force Dagger Foundation) provided assistance to wounded, ill, or injured US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) members and their families); ‘Task Force K-Bar’ was led by the US and comprised of special operations forces from seven nations which undertook the first major ground deployment in the War in Afghanistan. In a classic Special Forces Unconventional Warfare operations ‘Task Force Viking’ joined up with some 70,000 Kurdish Peshmerga forces (forces of Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq) and took on 13 Iraqi Divisions.
Army Rangers is an elite light infantry unit skilled to carry out missions like direct action raids, airfield seizure, special reconnaissance, personnel recovery, often killing or capturing high value targets, clandestine insertion and site exploitation. Their training skills are mix of infantry and special forces. Green Berets may perform operations or campaigns that lasts for months or years; Ranger missions are usually short and decisive.
A SFs soldier carries the most advanced equipment as follows:
Para SFs is the special operations unit of the Indian Army. They played a pivotal role in capturing Tiger Hill from the Pakistanis during the 1999 Kargil War. They have a choice of all infantry weapons and gear depending on the mission. Modernisation plans include new long-range sniper rifles; man-portable anti-tank weapon systems and handlaunched micro drones. It was reported that contracts for new Finnish Sako sniper rifles, Swedish Carl Gustaf Mark-4 lightweight rocket-launchers, Italian Beretta pistols with silencers have been finalised.
India’s Surgical Strike. The Indian Army has been carrying out covert operations across the line of control (LOC) earlier but they were not publicised like the ‘Surgical Strike’ conducted by the Indian Army on September 29, 2016 across the LOC against terrorists launch pads in POK.
The Armed Forces Special Operations Division has been set up by the government to undertake joint operations by three services and will have elements from the Army’s Parachute Regiments SFs, Marine Commandos (MARCOS) of the Navy and the Garud Commandos of the Indian Air Force. Major General A.K. Dhingra has been appointed as its first commander.
Ghatak (which means ‘killer’ in Hindi) platoon is part of the infantry battalion and only the most physically fit and motivated soldiers which are well-trained, superiorly-armed and equipped to handle situations like terror strikes, hostage situations and counter insurgency operations. It is not classic SFs.