New Delhi: After conducting “successful cross-border surgical strikes” against terrorist hubs, first in Myanmar in June 2015 and then in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in September 2016, India is now fast-tracking some long-delayed modernization of the Army’s Special Forces to make them even more lethal and mobile for clandestine warfare.
Defence ministry sources on Tuesday said “restricted” tenders have been issued to select foreign arms companies for acquisition of new assault rifles, sniper rifles, general purpose machine guns, light-weight rocket-launchers, tactical shotguns, pistols, night-vision devices and ammunition.
“Seven tenders or RFPs (request for proposals) were issued last week to American, Israeli, Swedish and other companies for acquisition of the specialised weaponry on a fast-track basis. Separately in a different capital acquisition project, trials are in progress to acquire over 120 light strike vehicles, which can be carried by helicopters, for the Special Forces,” said a source.
This follows soon after India inked a flurry of emergency deals worth around Rs 20,000 crore for ammunition and spares for the Army, Navy and IAF to ensure they are ready to go to battle at short notice, and sustain the high-tempo operations for at least 10 days, as was reported earlier by TOI.
The elite Special Forces in the 1.3-million Army constitute just nine Para-Special Forces and five Para (Airborne) battalions, each with 620 soldiers selected after arduous training to stretch their mental and physical capabilities to the limit.
So, the numbers and costs involved in the new set of procurements are relatively much smaller. The tender for new 9mm pistols, with silencers, for instance, is for just about 500 pieces, while the one for assault rifles is restricted to 1,120 for now. “If the new weapons prove effective, larger repeat orders will be placed at a later stage,” said a source.
The Special Forces already have specialised weaponry, ranging from Israeli 5.56mm TAR-21 Tavor assault rifles and 7.62mm Galil sniper rifles to American M4A1 carbines and Swedish Carl Gustav rocket launchers, as well as equipment.
But the need for lighter, new-generation weapons was felt during the cross-border raid against the camps run by north-eastern insurgent groups in Myanmar on June 9, 2015. The Indian commandos, carrying huge weapon loads including rocket launchers and flame-throwers, had to quietly cross over six km of the thickly-forested terrain to reach their targets and hit them with full force under the cover of darkness, and then take an alternate route back to evade detection.
“Though the mission achieved its objectives, the Army subsequently conveyed to the country’s top political authorities that lighter equipment was required for the Special Forces. Light-weight or disposable rocket launchers, for instance, would help in faster mobility with lesser weapon loads,” said another source.
There is, however, still no progress in establishing the desperately-needed Special Operations Command to bring together the disparate Special Forces of the Army, Navy, IAF, Cabinet Secretariat and home ministry under a unified command and control structure for larger strategic objectives. With no service as yet ready to part with its Special Forces, the defence ministry is contemplating a tri-service Special Operations Division as the first step towards having a full-fledged command, as earlier reported by TOI.