The Indian Army is looking at restructuring the selection process of its personnel volunteering for Special Forces and Airborne battalions. It is also aiming to expand their role in multiple operational theatres.

India, despite having large numbers of Special Forces units and troops, does not have a national strategy on how its SF troops should be employed. This impacts the force’s ultimate effectiveness and increases the possibility that the force is misused by the government.

In response to that, in 2012, a national security committee saw the need for a dedicated Special Operations Command, similar to USSOCOM; yet, this has still not come to fruition: The Selection and Assessment, as well as the training for the Indian Special Forces and airborne units, is not conducted at a centralized location nor does it have a standardized core of instruction. 

A proposal, from several high-ranking defense officials, recommends that the selection process become centralized and conducted from one location.

Each of the individual units currently conducts its own Selection and Assessment process called “Probation” while under the umbrella of the Parachute Regiment. The Parachute Regiment, which provides the manpower for the Special Forces and airborne battalions, has specially trained personnel who volunteer from all arms and services of the Army. Officers and all other ranks can volunteer to join the regiment and the Special Forces.

The candidates must complete a difficult probationary period of three months. At the successful completion of the period, they are inducted into the airborne regiment or the Special Forces units. The individual units have very strict mission parameters and their Selection/Assessment and training is geared towards the particular unit’s mission. Cross-training is virtually non-existent.

“Each special forces unit prides itself in certain traditions and ethos … the probation is to ensure that the soldier is mentally adapted to these and willing to accept them,” said a source within the military.

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In the effort to bring the SF units into a higher state of readiness and versatility, this is about to change. Anyone can volunteer for SF regardless of what MOS or service they are assigned to. However, under the current system, officers who volunteer first go to the Parachute Regimental Training Centre (PRTC) in Bengaluru and are subsequently sent to the Parachute Regiment units for their individual probation period. However, enlisted men and NCOs report straight to the units for their probationary period.

The Army has proposed a system that changes the initial Selection and Assessment program for volunteers for the Special Forces and the Parachute Regiment. Candidates will be given two-months notice before the selection process begins, after which a week-long preparatory phase of orientation will take place.

Once the orientation is done, Phase I of training will include a four-week selection and assessment process at the Special Forces Training School.

After the initial Selection course, the candidates will be assigned to either Parachute or special forces battalions through a board of officers.

Once assigned to a battalion, volunteers will undergo Phase II of probation: three months of training in basic skills. This training course will be different for special forces and airborne volunteers.

Finally, the selected group will go through Phase III of training, which will include four weeks of the parachute basic course at the Parachute Training School in Agra.

The Army proposal calls for four courses to be held each year — in March, June, September, and December — with a maximum of 500 candidates per course, including officers.

With the possibility of conflict with Pakistan and China, the Indian SF need to improve their overall readiness. This should include cross-training for all troops and preparation for all environments. A patent weakness that Lieutenant General Prakash Katoch, a Special Operations officer in the Indian Army, pointed out was:

“The lack of an intelligence cell, ‘dedicated’ insertion and extraction resources (helicopters, aircraft, etc.), support group, logistics group, cyber cell, training cell, R&D group, interface with R&AW, NTRO, IB, with SF Training School (SFTS) and the like. We may propagate that India is raising AFSOD on the lines of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) but there is little understanding that aircraft and helicopters integral to SOCOM are specially modified for special operations forces.” 

Finally, the Indian military has a defensive reactive mindset that also needs to change in order to get the SF units operating at peak efficiency.