Friday, 12 July 2013

Army's special forces to hone linguistic skills to give greater punch to clandestine warfare

The Army's elite special forces, along with sharpening their clandestine warfare skills, will now hone their linguistic skills as well. The Army is stepping up training of its Para and Para-SF battalions in "strategic foreign languages", with special emphasis being placed on "Chinese languages".

The Army feels its special forces should be well-versed in "linguistic, cultural and behaviour patterns" of potentially hostile countries because their mandate is to undertake covert and unconventional missions deep inside enemy territory "to neutralise high-value targets" in a surgical manner.

A detailed analysis — of the "strategic languages" the special forces should be proficient in — was carried out with this is mind, which was followed by a presentation being made to Army chief General Bikram Singh, said sources.

It was then decided that Chinese language skills should be made a thrust area since Mandarin and Cantonese speakers are few and far between. While the special forces have been getting some foreign language training, the aim is to now step it up. "Sharpening verbal communication skills will enhance their operational capability in different regions," said a source.

The American SEAL Team Six which took down Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, for instance, had some Pashto and Urdu speakers. "The language and culture as far as Pakistan is concerned is not a problem. There are some experts in Afghan Pashto and Dari as well as some other languages. But China is a problem area. Overall, the plan is to make a pool of 993 linguist personnel available to the Para-SF battalions by 2014," said a source.

This comes at a time when the Army is also trying to transform and modernise its eight Para-SF and five Para battalions. Plans are also afoot to add two more Para-SF battalions — each of which has around 620 soldiers — by 2017 to add to the eight existing ones tasked with "reconnaissance, out-of-area contingencies, surgical strikes, target-designation" and the like.

These battalions are also slowly being equipped with 5.56mm TAR-21 Tavor assault rifles, 7.62mm Galil sniper rifles, M4A1 carbines, all-terrain multi-utility vehicles, GPS navigation systems, modular acquisition devices, laser range-finders, high-frequency communication sets, combat free-fall parachutes, underwater remotely-operated vehicles from countries like the US, Israel, France and Sweden.

Experts, however, criticise the government for dragging its feet in establishing the desperately-needed Special Operations Command (SOC) to bring together disparate special forces of the Army, Navy, IAF, Cabinet Secretariat and home ministry under a unified command and control structure. Only then will the Indian special forces, which currently wallow in the "tactical domain", be able to effectively execute strategic or politico-military operations in tune with national security objectives.

The SOC, in fact, was one of the key recommendations of the Naresh Chandra taskforce report submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in May, 2012. The chiefs of staff committee — led by Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne and including General Bikram Singh and Admiral D K Joshi — has also virtually finalized a proposal for the government to create tri-Service Special Operations, Cyber and Aerospace Commands, as was first reported by TOI.

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