Special Operational Forces (SOF) are military units with unique multi-dimensional training with the demand of conducting some specific missions which are only dedicated to them with the utmost coordination, accuracy and success rate. These consists of special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-terrorism operations, hostage rescue, covert infiltrations etc. Countries like US, France, Russia, Israel, Germany, UK etc. have some of the best special operations units and so does India being such a big name in the military world. SOFs of India include the Para SF of the Indian Army, MARCOS of the Indian Navy and the Garud Commando Force of the Indian Air Force, while the National Security Guard (NSG) and the Research and Analytical Wing (RAW)’s Special Group forces act on the orders of the Indian Home Ministry and not on the orders of the military. But are the Indian SOFs on par with the best military powers of the world? Time to find out.
A SpecOps soldier is bound to outclass a regular soldier and requirements are extremely competitive. Special Forces have a higher average IQ than any other part of infantry units and their physical fitness is no-brainer superiors over average soldiers. US Army Green Berets, US Navy SEALS and the UK’s SAS (Special Air Service) are one of the highest names in terms of the harshest training received by the soldiers while Russia’s Spestnaz, France’s National Gendarmerie Intervention Group (GIGN) and Israel’s Sayaret Matkal lie in the names too. But India’s SpecOps units are also among these coveted names. Garud and NSG receive some very grueling training with a special mention to the MARCOS which is said to receive the harshest training in harshest conditions to be one of the best SOFs of the world.
Survival techniques, high-intensity runs, hand-to-hand combat techniques, evasive maneuvers, weapon skills and marksmanship, casualty evacuation and combat first aid are some of the bread-and-butter consumables of the Garud. Garud also have the longest training schedule among all special operations units of India. Some higher skills required are the direct action capability, hostile territory infiltration, providing air-traffic control to hostile airbases, suppression of enemy air defenses, destruction of enemy assets and equipment etc. Garud also hold the primary special force call-in for high-priority disaster management and rescue operations etc. The NSG’s being responsible for the primary call-in for counter-terrorism are highly trained in combating terrorist activities and protecting states from internal disturbances. Apart from these they go through rigorous psychological tests, bomb detection and disposal skills, counter-UAV and anti-drone ops, close-quarter and door-to-door interventions etc. The Para SF’s trainings are also as brutal as the other units with severe long endurance physical tests, 20km runs, close-quarter battles, intelligence gathering, ambush tactics, stress firing and tactical shooting, highly marksmanship etc.
But the MARCOS stand on a whole another level where from the starting of selection process 80% of the applicants are screened out after which 85% of the shortlists fail too. With an extreme degree of physical exercise required along with the sleep deprivation, MARCOS trainings are hellish. Even their selection process is similar to the US Navy SEAL’s ‘Hell’s Week’. They are also trained multi-dimensionally from under-water missions and scuba-diving to air-dropped fights in high-intensity enemy area simulations. They regularly undertake specialized maritime operations in Jammu and Kashmir through the Jhelum River and the Wular Lake (65 sq. km) and conduct counter insurgency operations in the region. The average MARCOS training drop-out rate is more than 80%. MARCOS operators are trained in every domain and every type of terrain out there in India and are ought to be skilled with all types of weapons available from knives and crossbows to handguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles to even bare hands.
These high-intensity trainings for all the special ops units do take a hefty amount of budget and unlike the ‘developed’ countries like US, France, UK etc. India still falls under the ‘developing country category’ and it is reasonable to believe that the expenditure towards these units in their modernization isn’t as big as US but there are certain factors that Indian Special Operations Forces are stand differently in comparison to them.
Diverse Terrain and Operational Environments: India’s geographical diversity presents unique challenges for its special forces. From the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas to dense jungles, deserts, and coastal areas, the Indian Special Forces train extensively to operate in various terrains and climates. This includes specialized training in mountain warfare, jungle warfare, and desert operations, enabling them to adapt to a wide range of environments.
Focus on Asymmetric Warfare: Given India’s security environment, the Indian Special Forces emphasize training in asymmetric warfare. This includes honing skills in unconventional warfare, guerrilla tactics, and irregular warfare. Special attention is given to developing adaptability, improvisation, and resourcefulness to effectively engage adversaries with varying capabilities and tactics.
Integration with Conventional Forces: Israel’s Sayarel Matkal, Russia’s Spetsnaz, the US Navy SEALs and some other highly competent SOFs are all known for their only-unit approach, considering SpecOps missions are conducted by these small units with no other armed forces interfering. SOFs are rarely found to be very operating alongside regular armed forces divisions but Indian Special Forces training focuses on seamless integration with conventional forces so that apart from their covert mission profiles, they can also help the regular Indian Armed Forces as and when needed in combat. This ensures effective coordination during joint military operations and enhances interoperability.
Habitual in Combat: India’s position has always been concerning in terms of probable war scenarios due to almost regular cross-border firing and conflicts with Pakistan and China. From inter-army scuffles and fist-fights in the mountainous regions with China which often break out in news to the repeated cross-border ceasefire violations from Pakistan and indiscriminate terrorist activities – these situations have moulded Indian soldiers and special operations units into more combat-habituated soldiers with always on-ready mindset in case of any combat breakout.
Indian SOFs lie in the leagues of the best special forces of the world. PARA SFs are called in for direct assault, special reconnaissance and intelligence gathering, counter terrorism and counter-insurgency and also foreign internal defense.
Garud Special Forces are very competent in conducting aerial surveillance and target acquisition, providing security to airbases and military installations, combat search and rescue operations, counter terrorism and precision strikes, and also close air support with ground units since they are a unit of the Indian Air Force.
NSGs are tasked with counter-terrorism, bomb disposal missions, hostage rescue and maritime counter-terrorism, airborne operations and VIP protection. The NSGs are primarily and extensively used to guard VIPs and VVIPs especially those in the Z+ category. Some are even upped to the Special Protection Group who are tasked to protect the Prime Minister at all times both India and abroad.
The Marine Commandos (MARCOS) excel at maritime warfare, underwater operations and maritime counter-terrorism hence the name while also capable of amphibious assault, maritime surveillance, infiltration/exfiltration from sea, maritime reconnaissance, riverine combat operations and counter insurgency.
Ranking India’s Special Operations Forces with other countries’ SOFs in terms of competency and lethality of weapons used is a bit broad topic and India as a whole in this unit lies in a kind-of middle list ranking.
Pistols – The Glock-17/19 and Beretta 92FS 9mm Parabellum semi-auto pistols are the most used pistols in Indian SOF units. Glock has become one of the most reliable and well-performing pistols around the world and has been adapted by numerous Special Forces. United States Navy SEALs, Germany’s GSG-9, the British SAS, Israel’s Sayaret Matkal, Poland’s GROM etc. and many other coveted names use this same pistol. Another high-performing pistol used by the Para SF and NSG is the Beretta Five-Seven which is also used by the GIGN. These pistols are also comparable to the GsH-18 semi-auto pistol used by the Russian Spetsnaz.
Sub-Machine Guns – SMGs are an integral part of Special forces inventories specially in the urban warfare missions, door-to-door interventions and close quarter battles and Indian SOFs love the Heckler & Koch MP5 which is the primary SMG for all of our special forces units. The MP5 due to its integrated suppressor, short barrel, good recoil, ergonomics and stellar combat history has been arguably the best SMG for covert missions and this weapon is used by more than 40 countries including French GIGN, Australian SFs, Germany, South Korea, UAE, US SOCOM, UK SAS and other SFs, Turkish SFs and even by Russia’s FSB Alpha Group. There’s not many reliable SMGs out there which can give very good combat results and to name a few the old Uzi, HK MP7, Brugger & Thomet MP9 (few units) and the HK MP5 variants pretty much build the sub-machine backbone for the best SFs around the world.
Assault Rifles – Indian SOFs have a variety of assault rifles in their inventories the same ones of which are adopted by various other special forces. From the east we have the legendary 7.62x39mm AKs and AK-103s which are also the primary assault weapon for Russia’s Spetsnaz and Alpha Group, their counter-terrorism unit, Poland’s GROM, Serbia’s Gendarmarie etc. It is one of the primary weapon for the Para SF while the Garud is also testing it to make it one of their staple weapons. On the west, we have the Colt M4 as one of the standard weapons for the MARCOS and Garud – the same weapon which is also used by other big names such as the US Green Berets, Navy SEALS, Delta Force, UK SAS, GIGN, and Canada’s JTF2 etc. India also field the FN Herstal SCAR-L and SCAR-H, a very capable modular assault rifle which is also used by US SOCOM, Polish GROM, Denmark, Belgian SFs, New Zealand’s SAS Regiment etc. Sig Sauer, another big name in the weapons industry has recently entered the chat with their for-India SIG-716I, a variant of the SIG 716 battle rifle and is used by the Para SF, while the Garud SFs also reportedly looking to induct it. Then comes the Tavor TAR-21 which is arguably the best bullpup assaulr rifle alongside the Steyr AUG. It has been a standard issue for the Garud and is also used by Israel’s Defense Forces, Sayaret Matkal, Shayetet 12 and Maglan SFs as their standard issue. So considering this variety, India’s inventory full of western and eastern assault weaponry brilliance is no joke.
Sniper Rifles – Indian Special Forces does fall behind in this segment as our SFs do not have the vast fielding of the sheer medium-long range firepower. While long range is not much of a requirement for SF missions, SF snipers do hold an important task of covering the infiltrating troops with forward support and cover fire. Indian SOFs do not have a modern all-round well-performing Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR). The Soviet-era Dragunov SVD and HK PSG-1 has been the primary rifle in this role which is extensively used for both DMR and sniper roles. It’s 7.62×54 mmR cartridge is less powerful and less penetrating than the superior .308 Winchester and .338 Lapua Magnum rounds. Russia also fields this same old rifle for the DMR roles but they will be overpowered by the US SOCOM SCAR-20, US M110, HK-417 and HK G28 etc. which are used by the western counterparts.
In the Lapua Magnum segment, India has been recently using the Sako TRG-42 which has made itself among the very best sniper rifles but we surely do need to expand the inventory of them. As opposed to the Accuracy International AWMs, AXMCs, AS50, Barrett MRAD, SIG SAUER SSG etc. used by the other capable SOFs India doesn’t hold that much competition. In the anti-material sniper section, Indian SFs mostly field the Barrett M82/M107 and the Gepard GM6 Lynx (very small loadout). There are not many combat-proven names to pop off with the monstrous 50-cal M2 Browning rounds namely the Barrett M82, AX50, McMilan Tac50 used by many of the coveted Special Forces around the world. Although having not much units, India still doesn’t fall behind much as the Barrett M82/M107 has been the best and first priority for anti-material snipers worldwide while the Gepard GM6 Lynx is yet another very capable 50-cal sniper for urban warfare and close-quarter heavy sniping.
Other Equipment –
In case of highly modernized equipment such as rifle attachments, helmet-mounted optics, ballistic armour, rifle optics etc. US Special Operations units take the top spot as the Green Berets, Delta Force, Navy SEALs and SOCOM get the hands on the highest calibre of combat equipment and accessories to push their combat edge to their fullest and overpower the enemies. Indian SpecOps units do have some state-of-the-art names in their rifle attachments including Magpul, Trijicon, Aimpoint, EOTech, Elcan etc. but still fall short in the overall package. For an instance, India’s MARCOS and US SOFs both use the M4A1 as a primary assault weapon but US M4 features a modernized Block-II SOPMOD upgrades with advanced quadrails for 360 degrees of attachments, flashlights, pressure pads, AN-PEQ 15 tactical laser sights, foregrips for recoil control, customizable buttstocks for better mobility and ergonomics and of course some serious scope upgrades. Ranging from EOTech Holos to ACOGs, US M4s are much more versatile than Indian M4s. But these issues have been changing lately as more modernization deals for weaponry are being signed for overall combat upgrade. SSS Defence won the contract for the Spec-Ops AK upgrade while India has been buying M4s with CQB optimization and a host of accessories including MOR RDS, COMP M4 RDS, PEQ-2 Illuminator, EoTech-512 Holo Sights and M203 40mm underbarrel grenade launcher. India still lacks powerful LPVOs or Linear Powered Variable Optics for the assault rifles but it might be solved one day with a decent DMR contract. In case of ballistic armour protection Indian Spec Ops follow the path of German and French SOFs who are equipped with an overall balance of plate carriers, ballistic protection and mobility. US and UK SOFs use specialized armour systems, scalable plate carriers, Special Operations Forces Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TOAS) etc. which use advanced ceramics and materials for a Level 4 armour with high technology and quality induced in the kevlar. India has a good portion of night-vision capabilities similar to the other various SOFs such as BEL Passive Night Vision Goggles, 1PN58 NSPUM for the SVD, EK Thermal and Arjun Thermal Sights, ITL MARS sights on TAR-21 etc. Although the capabilities of our sights are more or less equal in capabilities with most other countries, USA still keeps themselves ahead for their SOFs. US’s Tier 1 Navy SEAL, G. Berets DEVGRU operators are equipped with the Ground Imagery Night Vision Goggles (GPNVG) designed by L3 Warrior Systems which have 4 intensifier tubes and are able to give a 97 degrees field of view and have proven very crucial for their respective close quarter operations.
International Cooperation and Drills –
India’s top notch rankings in all the Armed Forces divisions and the international friendly ties have made India’s Special Forces units some much respected relations and they undergo many international exercises/drills all around the year. Some of them are as follows –
- Exercise Red Flag: A large-scale aerial combat training exercise held in the United States, which includes the participation of Indian Garud Commandos for joint training with US Special Operations Forces.
- Exercise Desert Eagle: A bilateral exercise between Indian and UAE Special Forces, focusing on counterterrorism and desert warfare.
- Exercise Surya Kiran: A joint exercise between the Indian Army and the Nepal Army, which includes the participation of Indian Special Forces, aimed at enhancing cooperation and tactical skills.
- Exercise Yudh Abhyas: A bilateral exercise between the Indian Army and the US Army, involving Special Forces units, focusing on counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.
- Exercise Bold Kurukshetra: A joint exercise between the Indian Army and the Singapore Armed Forces, including Special Forces components, emphasizing urban warfare, counterterrorism, and special operations.
- Exercise Mithra Shakti: A bilateral exercise between the Indian Army and the Sri Lanka Army, involving Special Forces units, aimed at enhancing interoperability and sharing of best practices.
- Exercise Ekuverin: A joint military exercise between the Indian Army and the Maldives National Defense Force, including the participation of Indian Special Forces, focusing on counterterrorism and disaster management.
- Exercise Garuda Shakti: A bilateral exercise between the Indian Army and the Indonesian National Armed Forces, which includes Special Forces elements, focusing on counterterrorism and jungle warfare.
- Exercise Harimau Shakti: A joint exercise between the Indian Army and the Malaysian Armed Forces, involving Special Forces units, focusing on counterterrorism and close quarter battle.
- Exercise Shakti: A joint military exercise between the Indian Army and the French Army, involving Special Forces components, emphasizing counterterrorism operations and specialized drills.
- Exercise Ajeya Warrior: A bilateral exercise between the Indian Army and the British Army, including the participation of Indian Special Forces, focusing on counterterrorism, urban warfare, and interoperability.
- Exercise Shakti: A bilateral exercise between the Indian Army and the US Army, involving Special Forces components, focusing on counterterrorism, urban warfare, and joint training.
And the list goes on… These internationally cooperated drills and exercises have prepared Indian SOFs with a high degree of interoperability, respect and preparedness of missions on all sorts of grounds and terrain.
Also Read, Salary & Allowances Of Para Special Forces
Combat Experience is obviously not a parameter which can start a difference or comparison between two countries’ SOFs on who is the best as each event is distinctly different with various unimaginable factors which can act as the cause, rather they set an example on how the training, weaponry, personal skills and team coordination play among the SOF teams to bring in the demanded success with no less than a hundred percent accuracy. Indian Special Operations Units, including MARCOS (Marine Commandos), Garud Commando Force, NSG (National Security Guard), and Para SF (Special Forces), have been involved in a range of operations, including counterterrorism, hostage rescue, direct action, intelligence gathering, and unconventional warfare. Their combat history showcases their proficiency and effectiveness in challenging and high-risk environments. During the 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008, Indian Special Operations Units, particularly NSG and MARCOS (Operation Black Tornado), displayed exceptional skills and bravery. They conducted precise operations to neutralize terrorists, rescue hostages, and secure key locations. Their actions demonstrated their ability to respond swiftly and effectively to complex and coordinated terrorist attacks. NSG Commandos stormed a hijacked Indian Airlines Boeing 737 with 141 passengers on board at Amritsar airport during Operation Ashwamedh (April 1993) where Two hijackers, including their leader, Mohammed Yousuf Shah, were killed and one was disarmed before any hostages were harmed. On 15 July, 1999, NSG ended a 30-hour standoff by killing 2 terrorists and rescuing all 12 hostages after 3 officers and one of the wives were killed by them in a BSF Camp. The MARCOS have thwarted numerous anti-piracy attacks in maritime areas. Operation Pawan and Operation Cactus are also some of the major MARCOS achievements in international waters. Garuds have been actively deployed in the Jammu and Kashmir area. In the Operation Rakh Hajin, Garud commandos killed six militants after which the Ashok Chakra was posthumously awarded to Corporal J.P Nirala. India’s SOFs have been deployed in conflict zones such as Jammu and Kashmir, where they have conducted counterinsurgency operations against various insurgent groups and their expertise in operating in rugged and mountainous terrains has been crucial in combating militancy and restoring peace. The Indian Special Operations Units have also participated in international peacekeeping missions, showcasing their versatility and ability to adapt to different operational environments. They have contributed to UN peacekeeping efforts in countries like Somalia, Mozambique, Sudan, and Congo, where they have played a significant role in maintaining stability and security. India’s Special Operations Forces certainly have a commendable place of respect in terms of the patriotism they show towards our country through their operational deployments, training, missions etc. and nobody can change that.