Archive for the ‘Indian Armed Forces’ Category

I couldnt help but publish this here….an excellent read.

IntelliBriefs: The hollow Army.


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The Ministry of Deadbeats (MoD)

When it comes to handing out justice for criminal negligence and incompetency, the first in line should be the MoD. We need to get rid of this cancer.

As a nation need to play as a team. It doesn’t seem to be in our culture to be team players, be it cricket or hockey..it is all about individuals.

The MoD has a huge responsibility… to make sure that the nations Armed services get their support in all aspects..be it procurement, salaries, pensions et al….they are supposed to be supportive, inclusive and enhance the might of the nations armed forces.     Wow !! what a concept.
Instead they have continuously undermined the armed forces and played truant to all efforts to modernize the forces.

Here is and excerpt from Mr. B Ramans article ( with your permission Mr.Raman):

Read full article here

Bureaucratic Vacillation

The current procurement procedure, for instance, is so time-consuming and complex that it takes a minimum of 36 months even for a routine purchase to materialise. Every proposal is subjected to repeated reviews and approvals. Every approval means months of delays.

The case of the Tactical Communication System (TCS) is symptomatic of the malaise. A proposal to acquire TCS to handle communication requirements (voice, data and video) of a field force in the Tactical Battle Area was initiated in 1996. Initially, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) ordered that it be considered as an upgrade of the existing system.

In 2001, after wasting five years in processing it as such, MoD ordered that it should be considered a new procurement. Then, MoD approved import of the first two systems, with the rest to be produced in India with imported technology. The case was still under process when MoD changed its stand yet again in 2007 and decided that TCS would be developed indigenously.

Result: The whole process had to be started afresh. Nearly 16 years have elapsed, the MoD is yet to finalise who should be asked to develop and supply the TCS.

Can it get worse than this ?

If this is just the case of a small purchase like the TCS, what is happening to simple equipment like our body armor, helmets, assault rifles etc.  We don’t have an MBT ( screw the Arjun tank..the Army doesn’t want it..stop shoving that garbage in its face )..and ..stop this one sided propaganda at how good it is.  Stop going by what the bureaucrats tell you. Listen to people in the field.

The people expect the  journalists do some independent investigative reporting.

But it has only been to undermine the Armed forces !! Take the Mig-21 aircraft.  It was called the “Flying Coffin”. But ask any pilot..they love that beast. Yes it is unforgiving, but stop calling it a “Flying Coffin”.
Does  analysis show that we have more crashes than other major air forces in the world ? The MoD has a hand in here too ! Not until recently did we get a fighter trainer. The Kirans were woefully inadequate to train the pilots to graduate to the Migs. It is only now that we got the Hawks.

How many have talked to field units to understand why they wont accept the Arjun. Or why the LCA is not yet ready ?

Instead right now it is fashionable to gang up on the Army. Wait till there is another 26/11 or some such incident and everyone will clamor for the Army. Everyone was aghast as to why the NSG took almost 9 hours to reach the site.

Here is another classic of our bureaucracy ! The CMG had to go the PM’s residence ..yeah drive to his place to meet. Really ? Hear of secure cell phones dear minister ? Of course their families were safe..so what is the hurry. It took them 5 hours to decide to use the NSG. And of course the NSG has no aircraft of their own. So much for being the elite strike force that they are. Those poor guys had to requisition ( another time consuming procedure) the Air force and then the BEST ( Bombay’s elite transport company ) to reach the destination.

Why couldn’t a decision be made to requisition the Comm squadron(VIP transport aircraft)  to take them from NSG base to Delhi airport, get 4 civilian aircraft under emergency law and send them on their way ?

For crying out loud..the DEA in the US have their own aircraft !!

Hand this nation to these Babus, and we will be eating Rice noodles dished out by the Chinese Army within the next 5 years. You think I am being harsh ? Think about it.

1962 should never have happened. Thanks to that Pandit of all Babus ( Nehru).  In 1965 we should have finished off the Pak Army and the Air force so that they never venture into adventurism again. instead we gave them back the Haji Pir pass.

Kargil would never have happened. 26/11 would not have happened.

Why didnt we ? Thank our babus !

On the flip side…the media is  the nations check and balance…you must keep even this glorious institution(Armed Forces) in line. But independent research and investigative journalism should provide facts and thoughtful opinions instead of just beating the Armed forces down.

So I ask the NDTV’s and IBN’s of this world ? Care to scrape your collective brain cells to expose and drive/replace this MoD towards improvement/oblivion ?

Here is my idea..Defense Ministry should be headed by people “qualified” in Defence matters…..not by some anguta chaap because he won an election. Does he even have the brain power to understand what goes on in the Armed forces, while until recently he was only capable of worrying about which rival to take out so he can win the seat.

and for the likes of Arundhati Roy….put your money where your mouth is….instead of beating up our nations soldiers, use your anger and rage to set right the MoD.

Any Takers ?????

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I wonder how many people even know that this battle took place.  Are we doing a disservice to the nation by NOT telling these battles to our children and youngsters and our people ?

I will never forget Op Rajeev. It happened on my Birthday when my CO was toasting me in the Officers mess and we heard that the Pakis attacked.

The battle as told here in the article below is pretty accurate and it surprised me as to the details. Being privy to some of the intercepts and the situation reports that came through it appears to have been told by an officer who was involved in the battle….and he does say that in the writeup. What I did hear later was that there were some GR soldiers who had to be taken / coaxed at gunpoint by a junior officer to join the battle. Such was the toll it takes on the minds of the soldiers fighting at this altitude. It is too easy to think and feel the futility & the sheer waste in human lives on both sides.

But all said and done…this is our Motherland and not an inch will be given…

Hence the saying in Siachen ” Quartered in snow…Silent we Remain…When the bugle calls..we  will Stand up and fight again

Here goes …


23rd September 1987 is an important day in the history of Siachen when Pakistan’s No. 1 & No. 3 Commando Battalions of the Special Service Group (SSG), along with No 2 Northern Light Infantry (NLI) Battalion of the FCNA, attacked an Indian post, on the Northern shoulder of the Bilafond La pass. The post at an altitude of 19,000 feet, at the time of attack was occupied by only eight men. It was this section that successfully defeated an enemy brigade sized force, creating history of sorts in the annals of military warfare. The attack carried out from 23-25 September 1987, with temperatures dipping to a low of minus 30 degrees Celsius was repeatedly repulsed. The operation codenamed ‘OP QIADAT’ by the Pakistan Army and ‘OP VAJRASHAKTI’ by the Indian Army was a sequel to an earlier operation nicknamed ‘OP RAJIV’, launched three months earlier, when Pakistan lost their ‘Quaid Post’ located at the Southern shoulder of Bilafond La, at a height of 22,000 feet, to the troops of 8 Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI) and the post was renamed ‘Bana Post’.

As per Pakistani reports and signal intercepts, the enemy suffered close to 300 soldiers dead. While Naib Subedar Bana Singh was awarded. the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) for ‘OP RAJIV’, Capt Iqbal of the Pakistan Army was awarded Hilal-i Jur’at (HJ), posthumously for ‘OP QIADAT’ There was wide media coverage of these operations in September and October 1987 but with the passage of time the sacrifices made have since been forgotten…

It was precisely at 5.55 a.m. on 23rd September, when the brave, young and courageous men of Pakistan’s elite SSG, launched their attack on the Indian posts of Ashok and U-Cut, referred to as Rana and Akbar Posts by the Pakistanis. They were appropriately welcomed by Nb Sub Lekh Raj along with seven other men. The numbers swelled, but brave Lekh Raj kept assuring that nothing would happen to the post as long as he was alive. It was not more than 15 minutes after he spoke to me over the radio set when a TOW missile fired from the enemy fire base established at ‘Rahber-II’ hit the bunker and killed the JCO instantaneously along with two other men. The situation became rather precarious with only five men left on the post but these brave men fought gallantly and the enemy wisely retraced their steps toward their Rahber and Tabish Posts in the rear. Capt Nazareth, the young Pakistani officer, who led the initial assault on the Indian post, was subsequently joined by Captains Rashid, Cheema, Akbar, Imran, Mohammad Iqbal seconded from the Army Service Corps to the Commando force and Naib Subedar Sher Bahadur. Captain Sartaj Wali, the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) was moved forward to attend to the casualties.

As expected, the Pakistanis resumed their misadventure after darkness on 23rd. Their Company Commander Maj Rana was in touch with his battalion commander over the radio set. It was pitch dark, yet the enemy movement was noticed and accurate fire was brought down on them from the only mortar deployed just behind Ashok post and the aerial bursts of rocket launchers fired from Sonam were extremely effective. The attack developed a crescendo by 3.00 a.m. and suddenly there was a pause and I intercepted a message from Captain Rashid to some senior officer in the rear “We are waiting for two hours and the ropes have not fetched up yet, we will be day lighted. Cheema is dead and many are injured badly, please send reinforcements.” Their morale was low and we knew that they would not pursue the attack any further till at least the following night. On the Indian side Maj Chatterjee along with a mixed command of JAK LI and GR troops moved about the whole night motivating his men under heavy and accurate artillery fire The white sheet of ice was blackened with shelling and our pub tents and parachutes, on the ice surface were shredded with shrapnel and the mini camp at Sonam and Bana Top, where I was located, had craters all around. The sight, though scary, was spectacular with the pot holes making a distinct design on the whiteness around our abode.

The enemy resumed his attack on the night of 24th September, i.e. his third night of exposure. This time Captains Rashid and Iqbal led the assault and came very close to the top. The reinforcements promised by the Company and Battalion Commanders had not arrived and they had suffered very heavily and were tired and exhausted. It was close to midnight that I heard Rashid tell his superior officer, “Wherever I move the enemy fires at me” and prompt came the reply “The kafirs have got hold of our radio frequencies and are monitoring them, all troops switch to alternate frequencies.” There was a pause and then Rashid resumes his conversation, “Sir, we are not carrying our alternate frequencies and all are teams have left the base.” After a while there was another conversation intercepted “Rashid has been killed and the reinforcements have not reached, tell these seniors to come forward and see for them selves. They are safe in their bunkers and care little for us.” That was a good indicator, and we knew that the battle had been won.

Such was the story of the battle of Bilafond La, a battle of nerves and guts with no real winners but only losers. When will this fight end? The answer remains, till we shed our egos and ambitions.

Well fought red —Blue the winner.”

Note from Cosmicwarrior:

A few more interesting things about that battle:

a) the posts ran out of ammunition. The brave soldiers were actually throwing down emptied “dalda” (vegetable oil) cans filled with rock and ice on the enemy climbing the ropes.

b) Replenishment ammo came via a Mi-26 transport helicopter that landed in Base camp. This was a first for a helicopter of this size and weight to land there. Such was the power of this beast that most of the tents in a 300m vicinity were blown down. It couldn’t turn around within the Base, but had to fly to the widest part of the glacier to turn around and head back. Kudos to the pilots who even thought of flying this beast to 12,000 ft ASL.  It’s ceiling is 15,000 but it cant carry anything leave alone ammo.

c) Some of the soldiers were evacuated at night by AirOP pilots flying daring missions with floodlights attached to the front of the helicopters. So many of them survived to tell the tale.

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It is sad that we as a nation are so feeble and project a helpless face to this world. I never understand this. All our GOds have weapons in their hands. All our epics ( Ramayan and Mahabarath) have witnessed battles of great intensity ….for Dharma. The soldier is the most respected of all professions in India next to the Teacher.

But we have done nothing to get our POW’s back. We did nothing about Lt.Sourabh Kalia’s torturous death.

I don’t understand our psyche.

Here is a well made movie on this POW issue…


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I had the rare privilege of serving with Major Naiker ( now probably a Brigadier ) who was from 52 SAG and conducted Op Black thunder II. I Hero worshiped this man who happened to be my Company Commander while I served in 28 Inf Div as OC 2 Coy of the Signal Regiment. His class, his demeanour, the way he carried himself was something all junior officers could emulate. He was extremely fit. He held the record for that obstacle course they talk about in the article below that hasn’t been broken till date.

Along with him I also had the rare privilege of serving with another of these Black Cats — Captain Biman Sah..who is no more unfortunately. May his soul rest in peace. He was a daredevil to say the least and was always into some adventure activities in peace time loaction. he was my instructor in Mhow at the YO’s school where I learnt micro light flying from him.

A common trait of these fine officers – extreme humility, great confidence, fantastic fitness and compassion….they had humanity in them.

These are rare men and I wish them all the very Best wherever they are !

Part I


Insignia of the National Security Guards

Special thanks to Counter Terror & Hostage Rescue and India Today

“It goes, strikes, achieves and quietly comes back, just like the mythological chakra which would behead the demons and return to the finger of Lord Krishna.” Nikhil Kumar, Former Director General of the National Security Guards.

The National Security Guards (NSG) was raised by the Cabinet Secretariat under the National Security Guard Act of 1985 and has acquired considerable experience from the intense insurgency operations it has faced – from the present conflict in the state of Kashmir to the cradle of its birth, the state of Punjab. Adopting a variety of roles from counter-terrorism to hostage rescue to VIP protection, the NSG proudly wears the mantle of being one of the finest counter-terrorist units in all of Asia. Their goals include;

Neutralisation of specific terrorist threats in vital installations or any given area

Handling hijack situations involving piracy in the air and on the land.

Engaging and neutralising terrorists in specific situations.

Rescue of hostages in kidnap situations.

But being one of the finest counter-terrorist units in all of Asia, does not come without a price. The NSG simulates hundreds of realistic scenarios in daily drills – the key being fitness and surprise. “Surprise doesn’t mean that the terrorists don’t know we are coming. It is just that we have chosen the when, how and where. And it is with our chosen technique and weapon,” says Colonel V.K. Dutta, who has been associated with the NSG since its inception. The unit is popularly known as the Black Cats, because of the black nomex coveralls and balaclavas (head gear) or assault helmets they adorn. Their motto is – One for All, All for One.

A NSG Commando dressed to kill.

A ‘Black Cat’ Commando armed with an MP-5 sub-machine gun.

With a total strength of approximately 7500 personnel, the NSG is divided into two groups – the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Special Rangers Group (SRG). The SAG, which comprises 54% of the force, is the elite, offensive wing with members drawn from the Indian Army. The SRG, on the other hand, has members on deputation from central police organisations like the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Rapid Action Force (RAF). The primary function of the SRG is to play a supportive role to the SAF, especially in isolating target areas. For maintaining the young profile of the force, troops are rotated and sent back to their parent organisations after serving in the NSG for three to five years. The basic training period at the organisation’s training centre at Manesar, 50 km from New Delhi, lasts 90 days. Only those who complete the entire course successfully are inducted into the NSG and given further specialised training.

The probation grind saps the toughest of recruits and the drop out rate is 50 – 70%. For starters there is a 26-item, 780-metre obstacle course, with a qualifying time of 18 minutes. If a person completes the course in 25 minutes, he is deemed fit. The best do it in less than nine minutes. The obstacles have to do with heights, horizontal gaps and vertical scaling and are difficult to tackle in sequence. As if this is not enough, there’s a target shooting session at the end of the obstacle course meant to test the aspirants’ performance under severe stress and exhaustion. Those who complete this course are recruited to the unit and sent for advanced training. Some operators are sent to Israel for advanced training. Though it is not known exactly what training they receive, it could probably be the CT/HRT course with Unit 707. The unit also cooperates with Israel’s Shabach, for training in VIP protection.

One of the hurdles in a 26-item, 780 meter obstacle course. The qualifying time is 18 minutes but experienced operators take around 9 minutes.

In the Combat Room Shoot, the combatant enters a dark room, adjusts to the darkness and engages the target with either a torch light or a compatible laser image intensifier – all within 3 seconds. And not just in darkness but under the strobe lights of a discotheque as well, which are some of the most difficult shots to take. “We train them to take only head shots. And two at a go – the double tap system. It’s to ensure neutralisation of the target. In the close hostage-terrorist situations we face there is little scope for body shots,” says Colonel Dutta. To hone shooting skills the training centre has an Electronic Combat Shooting Range built at a cost of over Rs.1 crore. Divided into 11 zones and spread over 400 metres, a recruit has to cover this distance in just six minutes, 30 seconds and fire at 29 targets along the way.

The target exposure time is between two and three seconds and the targets are of all kinds – vertically rising, popping out, moving and rotating. The faster a person engages the target the more points he scores. It is not just non-reactive targets that they practice against. In twin room shooting, rival combatants enter contiguous rooms and watch each other’s movements on a screen. They are supposed to neutralise each other by shooting at the screen. The exercise test the combatants’ response time and accuracy under near-field conditions. The men are also put through a battle inoculation program where they have to stand right next to the target while one of their partners shoots at it. “They have to become used to live bullets flying under their noses.

Also the person shooting is conscious that if he misses by even a couple of inches the bullet is going to hit his partner.” says an instructor. They don’t wear the kavach either, a bullet-proof vest, designed by Colonel Dutta himself. The vest can withstand an AK-47 or a 7.62mm carbine shot at point blank range. Members of the unit are assigned partners soon after completion of basic training and they train and even go on leave together. But as crack professionals, they are under orders to shoot their partner if he makes a single threatening step detrimental to the security of a VIP. On an average, a commando fires 2000 rounds of live ammunition during practice sessions throughout the year. This is apart from the two months that units have to spend in alert status and for whom it’s a daily stint at the range. “I did more firing in a week of alert status than in my entire 10-year stay in the Army,” says an NSG Officer. On average a person fires close to 14,000 rounds over a period of two months in alert status. The target strike rate has to be above 85% for a person to remain in the force.

NSG operators practising fast-reaction shooting from difficult angles at targets that pop up for split seconds to achieve absolute accuracy.

Some NSG personnel have received additional training in Israel and use weapons like the famed 9mm Uzi sub-machine gun. Their weapon of choice, however, is the Heckler & Koch family of 9mm sub-machine guns, the 7.62mm PSG-1 sniper weapon and the Heckler & Koch 512 12-gauge shotgun. Side arms include Glock 17 and Sig Sauer P226 9mm pistols. They are also armed with state-of-the-art surveillance gadgets and other sophisticated equipment. The unit is also parachute-trained, but is uncertain whether this capability includes free-fall (HALO/HAHO) and static-line or just the latter. The unit also has a superb bomb disposal squad.

The smallest combat unit in the NSG’s counter-terrorist ops is a hit which comprises of five members – two pairs, or partners and a technical support member. Four hits make a team which is under the command of a Captain. The number of hits used for an intervention job depends on its complexity and the magnitude of the operation. In hostage rescue situations, a team of 50 to 90 NSG personnel and an IL-76MD strategic transport aircraft to transport them, are stationed on alert at New Delhi’s Palam AFS and are ready to deploy within 30 minutes of being informed.

The NSG is an elite force providing a second line of defence to the nation. They have played a pivotal role in safeguarding the unity of India and have commendably foiled attempts of anti-national elements to tear apart the social fabric of the country. The NSG has maintained an edge over terrorist outfits in possession of latest technology and are considered among the finest special operations units in all of South Asia. However, as Colonel Dutta says, “We are like nukes. The ultimate back-up.”

A partial list of previous NSG Operations;
{ Source: Counter Terrorism & Hostage Rescue }

30 April 1986: NSG commandos storm the Golden Temple in Operation Black Thunder I. No casualties on either side and no weapons are found.


A NSG Sniper armed with a H&K PSG-1 rifle.

12 May 1988: 1000 NSG commandos surround the Golden Temple for yet an other assault in Operation Black Thunder II. Sniper teams armed with Heckler & Koch PSG-1 rifles with night scope took up positions, including atop a 300-foot water tower. While commandos from the 51 SAG divided into assault squadrons, the SRG were used to seal off the area around the temple and for tactical support. On May 15th, the NSG began its attack. Machine gun fire and rockets were used to cut holes in the temple’s minarets, followed by teargas canisters. Once it was determined that the towers had been abandoned, the SAG used explosives to break holes into the temple basement. By May 18th, all militants had surrendered at the cost of only two wounded Black Cats. In mid-1990 an NSG battalion was again deployed to Punjab to confront the Sikh rioters. There they began training the Punjab Police in counter-terrorism.

24-25 April 1994: NSG Commandos storm a hijacked Indian Airlines Boeing 737 with 141 passengers onboard at Amritsar airport during Operation Ashwamedh. The hijacker, Mohammed Yousuf Shah, is killed before he can react and no hostages are harmed.

October 1998: As part of the implementation of the Union Home Ministry’s decision to conduct pro-active strikes against militants, commando teams supported by IAF Mi-25/35 helicopter gun-ships began striking at terrorist groups deep inside the mountains and forests of Kashmir. After helicopter recces were conducted to pinpoint the militants, the commandos – comprising NSG and Rashtriya Rifles personnel – were para-dropped, along with supplies, into the area to hunt the militants. They had to rely on these supplies and their ability to live off the land until replenishment every fortnight or so. The operations were said to be highly successful although precise details are not being released in order to maintain a low profile. These missions are reportedly still ongoing.

Landing on a roof to storm a terrorist hideout.

NSG operators fast-rope on to the roof of a building from a Mi-17 transport helicopter, of the Indian Air Force, during a HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) drill.

15 July 1999: NSG commandos end a 30-hour standoff by killing 2 terrorists and rescuing all 12 hostages unharmed. The terrorists had attacked a BSF campus, killed 3 officers and the wife of an other. The 12 hostages were kept locked in a room. The NSG arrived the previous evening and positioned themselves around the apartment complex. At one point two militants tried to crawl out and one was shot dead. The other managed to crawl back. Finally at around 5:00 in the morning the NSG assaulted the apartment. The terrorists managed to move to another room, allowing the NSG to release all 12 hostages. At around 8:00 a.m., a 84mm rocket was fired into the roof of the room, collapsing it and killing one militant.

21 August 1999: After interrogating three captured terrorists, the Delhi Police Crime branch confirmed that two more terrorists were hiding in a one-storied house in Rudrapur, Uttar Pradesh. Since the terrorists were considered armed and dangerous (their colleagues were arrested with 100+ pounds of RDX), the Delhi Police decided to seek assistance from the NSG. A 16-man team arrived at the house at 4:45 a.m. They began their assault at 5:30 a.m., before first light. The first militant managed to fire at the commandos with a pistol he kept by his bed side, but was killed an instant later. The second terrorist was shot before he had a chance to fire and died 40 minutes later. No NSG personnel were injured in the operation.

December 1999: Terrorists hijack Indian Airlines flight IC814 from Nepal, and land in Amritsar, Punjab. Within minutes of landing the Crisis Management Group (CMG), which authorizes the use of the NSG, is informed. But the CMG wastes precious hours and by the time the go-ahead is issued, it is too late. On the other hand, the NSG team on alert was elsewhere and no other team was raised during the delay. By the time the NSG reached Amritsar airport the hijackers became restless and ordered the plane to takeoff. Here too the NSG missed their opportunity by not blocking the runway or shooting out the planes tires. The plane lands in Kandahar, Afganisthan where one hostage is killed. Finally the Indian government agrees to the terrorists demands to release 3 jailed terrorists. The hostages are released and the terrorists escape to Pakistan.

NSG commandos taking over a hijacked train.

NSG operators conducting a train assault.

February 2000: Following the Flight IC814 fiasco, the Indian Government decided to implement an Air Marshal program. At least two NSG operators will be present on flights over select routes. These operators will be armed with weapons firing lethal but low-velocity fragmentation rounds to minimize danger to the passengers and prevent penetration of the aircraft. Another decision taken after the Flight IC814 fiasco, was to deploy NSG teams permanently at eight sensitive airports around the country, especially those bordering Pakistan and the North East. This decision will cut short reaction times for the NSG and eliminate hassles involved in flying the teams to the hijack site.

Ongoing: The NSG is used extensively to guard VIPs and VVIPs, especially those in the ‘Z-plus’ category. Many NSG personnel are seconded to the Special Protection Group (SPG) which guards the Prime Minister. However, the use of NSG for VIP protection has spiralled out of control recently. More than 19 persons currently enjoy NSG protection, mainly as a status symbol. The Home Minister has clamped down on this misuse and is currently phasing out the use of the NSG for VIP protection in all but the most serious cases (Z-plus category). From now on, NSG coverage will be provided based on a persons threat perception rather than status. This move has freed up a large number of operators for other missions. The NSG is also in demand as security consultants and are known to be active in the Middle East.

Copyright © BHARAT RAKSHAK. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of BHARAT RAKSHAK is prohibited.Part 2…More About the Black Cats…..


By Sheela Reddy – Outlook, 04 November 2002

Please click on thumbnails for a bigger image

The Black Cat Commandos of the National Security Guards (NSG) go through a near-death, gruelling training session to become lean, mean killing machines. Sheela Reddy of Outlook reports from New Delhi.

It’s the last place you’d expect to find the head office of India’s crack commando force, the National Security Guards (NSG) – on the thirteenth floor of Delhi’s Paryavaran (Environment) Bhavan. But no one seems conscious of the irony as I walk past the two trademark brass lions, a banner carrying the NSG emblem, the Sudarshan Chakra, and a lone Black Cat standing at attention, bored, but with his phallic AK-47 menacingly out. The reception desk in a fibre-glass cubicle is overflowing with Black Cats, but they are standing around looking uncharacteristically human, immersed, like most men in Delhi that day, in the cricket match.

National Security Guards – the ultimate back-up – at their training centre in Manesar, Haryana.

In the Chief’s office, his two friendly, open-faced personal assistants despatch pressing matters with quiet, Malayalee efficiency – a pedestal fan for the boss’ party and a letter from the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) – India’s intelligence agency. The Chief, Director General Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, has had a busy day. His boys have just returned in a blaze of glory from Akshardham. One died in action; incredibly, it is the first casualty in the 103 NSG operations so far. There is an edge to the debriefing of the commandos this time, and Mooshahary recounts his boys’ mettle with pride, “You know, one of them was hit in the jaw, and he just stopped firing long enough to get some first aid, then went back to the action.” But another official privately points out that all our commandos have is their raw courage, “The bravest fighters in the world, only just below the fidayeen in courage.” In terms of equipment and emoluments, they compare very poorly with elite soldiers from other countries. “They are 14th century warriors fighting a 21st century war,” he says acidly. But Mooshahary now wants to clear the long-pending list of NSG requests gathering dust in the Home Ministry for years, wants to strike while the iron is hot. Like the Headquarters, there’s no board at the entrance to the sprawling 1,600-acre NSG complex at Manesar in Haryana. The broad tree-lined avenues, the buildings set out in neat geometrical rectangles with precise, flower-bordered lawns, suggest an Army cantonment. But the trees – mere saplings – are a giveaway of the NSG’s extreme youth – born in 1985, it celebrated its 17th birthday last week.

Also known as Black Cat Commandos, NSG personnel scale a wall as part of their daily exercise regimen.

The first to greet us at the reception hall – an imposing two-storied glass mansion with broad carpeted stairways – is a young officer; his hands, he explains apologetically, are wet because he has just come from morning PT. A Colonel appears, a pleasant-faced man in his thirties, who joined the NSG because he “is one of the mad fellows who values risk and adventure over his life.” Then others, a Captain, a Lance Naik, a Lieutenant. They’re all young: to be in the NSG, you have to be below 40. These men have been through the world’s most gruelling physical training – two men died last summer during the basic course. There are no ranks – everyone is a commando, as the label on the breast pocket indicates: Commando Rajesh Bhowmick and not Captain Rajesh Bhowmick as it would read back in his army regiment. The trainees on their morning jog don’t stop to salute their officer, merely pass him by, in a whiff of male sweat and the stamp of boots, with a “Ram, Ram, Sir!” There is a graduation ceremony today. The lean young men in brand new black uniforms celebrate with a characteristic lack of fuss: a group photograph, followed by their officer pinning the commando balidaan (sacrifice) badge on their shirt, right over the heart. “It’s to remind us with every heartbeat of our pledge to die for others,” explains a young commando.

A Gandhian lunch is what the Black Cats live on: rice/chappati, vegetable, sambar and dahi.

Of the 250 volunteers handpicked for their physical and psychological fitness from thousands of soldiers and cops eager to join India’s most elite force, less than half make it through the 12-week basic training course. The regimen begins at 5 a.m., when the team leader blows three times on his whistle. All 60 men jump out of their bunks to gather in the central courtyard, for centre fall in within 30 seconds – with their boots on. It’s a drill that’s essential in a job where speed counts. The morning PT is only a warm-up for the 5 km run, with their 18.5 kg load of weapons, rucksack and water bottle. Trainees become used to the load, but the 770-metre obstacle course specially designed for the NSG is another matter. There are 26 obstacles, including climbing 16-foot ropes and jumping across flaming walls and other horrors. It’s the toughest obstacle race anywhere in the military world, more punishing than even the ones used in Israel and Germany to train para-commandos, our guide explains with pride. A short break for breakfast, and then it’s time to run again – this time to the firing range. And everywhere the banners, (One Shot, One Kill); (There are no runners-up in War); (It is easy to fire a good shot. It is difficult to find a good target); (The 3-D Secrets of Success: Dedication, Determination and Devotion). And a screaming one – (REMORSELESS, PITILESS, FEARLESS).

As aptly shown here, learning close-quarter battle tactics is essential for every Black Cat Commando.

“We are a force of last resort, our job is to kill,” explains our guide, and we see proof of this at the firing range. The targets are not the usual concentric rings with bull’s eyes. They are all heads – cardboard heads re-pasted after morning and afternoon practice everyday. Just how busy the target makers are can be gauged by the number of rounds fired everyday: each trainee is expected to fire no less than 100 a day. Head hits are what the commandos are taught. But lately, the targets have been made more complex. Rubaiyya (yes, after the famous abductee) is a two-headed figure – a black and red head at the back, a white and pink burqa-shaped head in front. The men are taught to crawl, turn over, fire and run for cover without once hitting the pink and white Rubaiyya. You get minus two points for that. And for trainees who endanger colleagues’ lives by standing up instead of lying down, firing at an angle when asked to shoot straight, or some such error, there is a thick rope hanging from a neem tree next to the range. No, they are not hung by it, but something close: they have to climb up and slither down as punishment and reminder. You’d think that was a hard day’s work, but at NSG, the day is still young. It’s now time for a 16-km speed march through the forests and hillocks of Manesar. Then at 12:30 p.m., a 2-km march back to the mess for lunch. For men who work that hard, lunch seems almost Gandhian in its frugality: rice/chappati, vegetable, sambar and dahi. Meat, like the rationed 30 ml rum, is supplied twice a week. Here too the injunctions on the walls, “Drink Water Today, Save Blood Tomorrow.” Dehydration is the commandos’ worst enemy during training. By 2:30 p.m., the dreaded centre fall-in whistle is blowing again, this time for exercises such as rope-climbing, chin-ups, push-ups, all under the blistering mid-afternoon sun and the vigilant eye of their team leader.

A ski-mask clad Commando armed with a MP-5 SMG and what appears to be a fire-retardant hand glove.

Many crack up under pressure, some even die – just drop dead from sheer exhaustion. There is an hour’s rest finally, at 3:30 p.m. But those who want to take a nap instead of catching up with their letter-writing had better do it with their boots on. Because the whistle goes off again at 4:30 p.m. It’s time for some fun now: swimming, gym, karate. General roll call is at 7:30 p.m., with another call for centre fall in. But this time, it’s what the trainees call unwinding time, and the trainers call informal training: time to address issues, from new shoes to a missed shot, or a failed exercise to the more crucial emotional breakdowns, of which there are plenty: men so exhausted they break down and cry and want to go home. By the end of six weeks, many have either dropped out or been sent back to their regiments – the men have been separated from the boys. “We process trainees into deadly rangers,” declares one of the many banners at NSG. “And it can’t be done unless the men are self-motivated,” says our guide. I watch the men determinedly lining up for more push-ups and jogging, even as the sun is setting over Manesar. There is a physical training test in two weeks, and nobody wants to fail. It is an overwhelmingly macho world this, dormitories of steel cots in military rows, boots laid out tidily on black steel trunks, men silently wolfing down meals, grimly intent on enduring the drill; even the social system of buddies in which two male partners are bonded for the tough times ahead. But our guide assures us there was a woman commando who underwent the training course a few years ago. “We had our doubts, but she was better than any of the men in her batch.” A cross-country runner, she gave the men a complex by outracing them.

NSG recruits clowning around for the camera during the absence of their drill sergeants.

The biggest challenge of training commandos, says Brigadier Ravi Kumar over sandwiches and coffee, is to merge the culture of the army with that of the police. Most of the time, it succeeds; in the case of the PSOs (Personal Security Officers), sensationally: a Black Cat guarding a VVIP has as much resemblance to his peers in the police as a panther to a paunchy tabby cat. And not just in physical fitness: the alertness, the commitment to kill or be killed is the army culture he absorbed in the NSG barracks. And dealing with crowds, how to handle them and save them, is the police culture that he in turn bequeaths to his army colleagues in the barracks. In fact, it was because of the army commando’s lack of police skills, such as rescuing hostages or taking terrorists alive, that the NSG very early on reversed its policy of borrowing trained commandos from army units. Specialised training was required, and it was devised at the NSG centre to turn out anti-terrorist squads for any contingency. The crack teams, the commandos flown out to deal with critical situations like the one in Akshardham, are all army men: two closely-guarded teams, 51 and 52, trained for any internal emergency. The men in these two teams are kept fighting fit, in battle readiness, by following the same schedule they followed during training. Only this time there are no whistles from officers, but there are no late risers either. Games like volleyball and football are mandatory here, considered crucial for building team spirit. Of the 1,200 commandos, some 100, formed into small teams specialising variously in kidnap, hostage, hijacking and other anti-terrorist emergencies are on duty round the clock – ready to go within minutes of receiving a summons.

NSG recruits learn the art of one shot one kill as part of their rigorous 12-week basic training course.

The team sent to Akshardham, for instance, was armed and ready within 15 minutes. It is another matter that it took 1½ hours for them to reach the airport through rush hour traffic in Delhi. (There is a small helipad at Manesar, but no helicopters). As one officer explains with a touch of sadness, “What we needed at Akshardham were strobe lights, so we wouldn’t have to wait for the morning light. There is equipment available – digital scans, thermal scans, even dogs equipped with cameras, that could have made it possible for us to monitor it from here.” But even the lack of vital equipment does not seem to demoralise these stoic heroes. I wondered how it must feel to be ready to give up your life at any moment of the day, whenever the call came. “We don’t die for the country,” one taciturn officer explained. “We die for our mates”. But I found the answer taped on the wall: “I have the strength,” it said. “I know not from where the strength comes, but I have the strength.”

Copyright © BHARAT RAKSHAK. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of BHARAT RAKSHAK is prohibited.


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Why Siachen matters by Colonel Anil Athale (retd)

June 16, 2005

When the India-Pakistan secretary-level talks took place in Islamabad, the demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier was one of the issues on the agenda.

I had predicted there would be no breakthrough on the issue. The reason was Chief of the Army Staff General J J Singh’s categorical statement that any agreement would have to proceed from recognition of the Actual Ground Position Line.

Siachen talks inconclusive

Pakistan is loath to accept this since it would mean admitting it lost the Saltoro ridge and the Quaid Post (named after the founder of Pakistan) now renamed Bana Post after Param Vir Chakra winner Subedar Bana Singh who captured it.

Interestingly, the post was held by the much heralded Pakistani commandos and was captured by the India Army’s ‘ordinary’ infantry.

Having said all this, one must admit the utter futility of the fight over the Siachen Glacier. The area is over 22,000 feet high, offers no military advantage to either side, cannot be either a viable defence line or a launch pad and has no habitation and no economic significance.

Strategically, tactically, it is a useless piece of real estate.

The cost is horrendous, a chapatti delivered to a soldier there cost Rs 500. Even the excreta of soldiers manning these posts has to be lifted by helicopters and brought to base for disposal!

More soldiers have died there due to weather and accidents rather than enemy action.

In Siachen now weather the only enemy

Then why is the Indian Army insisting on recognition of a line on a map, and Pakistan resisting it?

World’s highest battlefield

First and foremost is the lack of trust between the two sides.

A discussion organised by the Observer Research Foundation on May 4 unanimously recommended that unless Pakistan recognised the existing positions, India should not agree to demilitarisation.

The story of Pakistani perfidy on Kashmir goes back to 1947. Then it claimed that tribals had invaded Kashmir, while the truth was that regular Pakistani soldiers and officers were part of the invading force, a fact later admitted.

Make Siachen a peace mountain: PM | Singh on Siachen

In 1965, it maintained a fiction that Kashmiri civilians had infiltrated.

In 1999, in Kargil it similarly claimed that ‘mujahids’ had crossed the Line of Control, when even tea shop owners on the Lahore-Islamabad highway knew the Northern Light Infantry was involved.

What is to prevent Pakistan in future from claiming similarly that it has withdrawn the military from Siachen, but ‘mujahids’ or freedom fighters have occupied it?

But the real unsaid reason for the Indian Army’s reluctance lies elsewhere: The lack of trust in our civil leadership on military issues.

This may seem a harsh comment, but what has been the past record?

Kargil and Post Point 13620 offers a classic case study in decision making.

This post overlooks Kargil town and the Srinagar-Leh road, for long the sole lifeline to Ladakh. Artillery observers from this post used to bring down accurate fire on the town and the highway at will.

In May 1965, while the attention of the Pakistanis was focussed on fighting in the Rann of Kutch, a Rajput battalion in a daring daytime attack on May 17, 1965 captured the post and made the highway secure for the first time since 1947.

But under UN pressure, it was handed back to Pakistan.

When infiltration in the Kashmir valley began on August 9, 1965, the Indian Army again attacked Post Point 13620 and captured it. But then came the Tashkent agreement of January 10, 1965, and along with the strategic Haji Pir pass, the Kargil post was again handed back to Pakistan.

Finally in 1971, the Ladakh Scouts under the inspiring leadership of Colonel Rinchan captured not only Point 13620, but the entire ridge during the December war.

It is difficult to find a parallel in world history of an army capturing a mountain post at great human cost and giving it back to the enemy not once, but twice!

The strategic importance of the Kargil heights is self evident even to an amateur but that was never an input in political decision making in India.

In 1971 when Indira Gandhi had all the aces up her sleeves, she still bargained away the advantage and did not secure binding Pakistani commitment on Kashmir. To her credit, like Lal Bahadur Shastri, she at least did not give back territory won in Kashmir.

The errors of Simla

Closer to our times, in the Kargil conflict of 1999, we unilaterally declared that we would not cross the LoC.

The argument that India’s restraint won it global support holds no water. The West (meaning the hyperpower, the United States) changed its stance not because the justice of the Indian case on Kashmir had suddenly dawned on it, but because it was a part of its re-assessment of the world in the post Cold War era.

By our lack of understanding and timidity, we have now established a ‘rule of the game’ that while Pakistan can cross the LoC we will not, even when it is tactically unsound. Thus, the duo of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then defence minister George Fernandes forced our soldiers to adopt virtually suicidal tactics to re-capture the Kargil heights.

Lack of geo-political vision

India never understood the vital strategic importance of the Northern Areas of Kashmir (comprising Gilgit and Hunza). This is an area where India, China and Central Asia meet.

The British, well schooled in the art, engineered a revolt in Gilgit (led by Major Brown and Captain Matheson) and unfurled the Pakistani flag there on November 3, 1947. Lieutenant Colonel Sher Jung Thapa then defended the Skardu fort for nearly eight months. But without ammunition and supplies, he finally surrendered on August 14, 1948.

Major Brown’s action were not in isolation. A year earlier, a freelance explorer, Sir Francis Tillman, had undertaken the arduous trek from Urumachi in Chinese Sinkiang to Chitral. Right from the early days Britain saw Pakistan as an imperial outpost of the West in Asia (V K Krishna Menon in Michael Breacher’s Krishna Menon’s View of the World).

In 1971, we had a golden opportunity to concentrate our military efforts in the direction of Northern Areas, if the military was told in advance about the intention to keep territory captured in Kashmir.

It appears that no such directive was given and retention of land captured in Kashmir was an afterthought at Simla. The success achieved in capturing Turtuk and various peaks in the Partapur sector was a ‘freelance’ operation by the great Colonel Rinchan, almost a solo effort.

A solution for Siachen

Imagine the strategic situation today if we could have cut off land/airlinks between China and Pakistan, and had a direct land link to Central Asia and Afghanistan (the Panjsher Valley). Could the Pakistan-China nexus have flourished if the contact between the two was through the long sea route?

Pakistan China to sign fighter jet deal

It is this dismal history of lack of strategic thought in India that sends shivers down the spine of any serious soldier when our politicos enter into ‘peacenik’ competition (the latest entrant into this is L K Advani of Secular Jinnah fame.

What is the guarantee that some future Pakistani general/president will not re-occupy Siachen with ‘freedom fighters’? And a future Indian government will not ask the armed forces to take back the Soltoro ridge?

This factor is a bigger obstacle in solving the Siachen issue than even Pakistani untrustworthiness.

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is a former joint director, War History Division, Ministry of Defence.

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