With an aim to add strategic heft to its operational ability in conventional war and anti-terror operations, India has set the ball rolling on the creation of a Special Forces Division. Major General A.K. Dhingra has been appointed as the first chief of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division, clearance for which was given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Combined Commanders’ Conference in September 2018.

Along with Dhingra, a highly accomplished colonel has also been appointed, and they have been tasked with setting up the organisation, which will have its own set of equipment, top sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint. The proposed new division will have the capability to carry out crippling attacks against critical enemy targets miles away. It will have about 3,000 commandos drawn from the Special Forces of the Army, Marine Commando unit (MARCOS) of the Navy and Garud of the Air Force.

State of India’s special forces

The idea to have such a division, earlier to be known as Special Operations Command, was mooted by the Naresh Chandra committee set up in 2011.The division will work under the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), responsible for synergising the functioning of the three forces and headed by a Lt General-rank officer.

While the Army has a strength of around 6,000 special forces personnel, both Navy and the IAF have around 1,000 each.As of now, the three special forces work under their own organisations, but specific units will be brought under the IDS to train and carry out specific high-value missions. Over the last few years, focus has been given to the needs of the special forces — be it as new equipment, including assault rifles and long-range sniper guns, or enhancing night operational ability.

Sources said specific units of the three services’ special forces will be allocated to the division on a rotational basis for a specified period of time.“It will be on rational basis and over a period of time all the personnel from the special forces of the three services will be able to operate jointly,” a source said.

Officers’ responsibilities

Top sources said a lot of thought went into the selection of the officers to head this new division.Maj. Gen. Dhingra, a Sri Lankan ops veteran, has been the commander of India’s only independent Para Brigade, and has served as the defence attaché in Washington. The concept of this division is also influenced from the US, which has the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

The newly-appointed officers have been asked to form the structured organisation by November-end, which will also include selecting where the headquarters will be based and what kind of equipment is needed.

The headquarters is likely to come up near an existing para centre, sources said.

Welcome step
Lt Gen. Satish Dua (retd), former chief of the IDS, welcomed the move.“Such integration will be very helpful in case India has to launch a special forces operation in the future where one needs expertise of Marcos, Garud and Special Forces Commandos together. It is a good to integrate special forces for operations. They will train and live together, which will help them to pick up the best practices of one another,” Dua told ThePrint.