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Elite special forces of Army, IAF, Navy get major weapons upgrade

Elite special forces of Army, IAF, Navy get major weapons upgradeNEW DELHI: From new long-range sniper rifles and man-portable anti-tank weapon systems to high-speed underwater scooters and hand-launched micro drones, India continues to gradually modernise its clandestine warfare arm. But the long-proposed Special Operations Command (SOC), or even its truncated version in the shape of a much smaller directorate, is still nowhere on the horizon.

Defence ministry sources on Tuesday said several contracts worth "hundreds of crores" have been inked in recent months to equip the elite special forces of Army, Indian Air Force (IAF) and Navy with more highly-specialised weaponry and equipment from countries like Finland, Sweden, Italy, Russia, Israel and Germany.

"More attention is being paid to the Special Forces after Para-SF commandos conducted the cross-border surgical strikes on terror launch pads in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir in September 2016," said a source.

Contracts for new Finnish Sako sniper rifles, Swedish Carl Gustaf Mark-4 light weight rocket-launchers, Italian Beretta pistols with silencers, for instance, have been inked for the Army's existing nine Para-SF battalions.

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Navy's almost 1,000 marine commandos or "Marcos" are inducting Russian VSS suppressed sniper rifles, air-droppable rubberised inflatable boats, remotely-operated underwater vehicles for explosive disposal, combat free-fall parachutes, hands-free power ascenders and opposed boarding equipment. Marcos are slated to get two "midget submarines" or "chariots" under a Rs 2,017 crore project.

Even as IAF is raising 12 new "flights" of Garud commandos to add to the existing 15 flights with 900 personnel, the force is earmarked to induct new sniper rifles, thermal sights, breaching ammunition and the like. "They have already inducted 65 micro-UAVs under a Rs 27 crore contract," said an official.

But SOC remains missing in action. Several committees, including the Naresh Chandra Taskforce in May 2012, strongly recommended the SOC to bring together disparate special forces under a unified command and control structure to execute strategic operations in tune with national security objectives.

A 2012-2013 proposal for a tri-service SOC was eventually whittled down to a smaller Special Operations Directorate, Defence Space Agency and Defence Cyber Agency, which is yet to be approved.

“Leave alone the long-term reform of having tri-Service theatre commands (with assets and manpower of Army, Navy and IAF under one operational commander in a region), even the truncated agencies for space, cyberspace and special operations are stuck,” said an official.

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