Interview with Lt Gen Prakash Katoch, PARA SF Veteran on Special Forces & Surgical Strikes

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Lt Gen Prakash C. Katoch, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SC is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army. DefenceLover spoke to Lt. Gen Prakash Katoch on his thoughts over many things, ranging from Para SF, to special forces of US, UK, Pakistan and China, and lastly with Surgical Strikes. We hope that those who aspire to join Indian army and special forces learn from his experience.

Question: Since the time Para Special Forces is raised, where are they majorly deployed?

Answer: Their deployment has been largely within the country other than in Sri Lanka – where the then three Parachute Commando battalions were deployed and did exceptionally well. In fact the LTTE intercepts stated they were very afraid of these units. During the IPKF tenure, the Parachute Commando battalions were renamed Special Forces. In addition, Special Forces have also been deployed in UN missions.

Question: What was the purpose of creating an another unit when we already had parachute units in the Indian army?

Answer: Parachute units are like regular infantry units that are trained for aerial induction. Once they are inducted by air and touch ground, their tasks are like the infantry – holding ground. Special Forces undertake special missions and do not hold ground.

Question: From Siachen to Sri Lanka to J&K and others, you have served at almost every where a soldier can be deployed, which posting was the most challenging of all of them?

Answer: The experience is different and cannot be really equated. In Sri Lanka I was commanding a battalion and challenges were very different – thick jungles, lagoons, counter-insurgency, well trained and motivated LTTE that used knowledge of ground very well. In Siachen, I was commanding a Brigade and though I made sure to spend nights at forward posts whenever possible, at ground level Siachen is the toughest for troops.

Question: What are the different rifles used by Para Special Forces till now?

Answer: They were initially having the same rifle as the rest of the Indian Army – the bulky 7.62 mm SLR which was semi-automatic, and even had this rifle when they went to Sri Lanka while fighting the LTTE equipped with the lighter, fully automatic and virtually no-stoppage AK-47. During the IPKF in Sri Lanka, Army was forced to import 1,00,000 AK-47 rifles because the DRDO was unable to produce an indigenous rifle– these AK-47 rifles were distribute to units, with each Special Forces battalion getting about 120 AKs. Eventually, the DRDO produced the 5.56 INSAS rifle but was not anywhere top of the line. Special Forces battalions were also were equipped with these, in addition to the AK’s they got in Sri Lanka. In early 2000s, the Tavor assault rifles were imported from Israel. However, there was rapid expansion of the Special Forces battalions after that, because of which the Tavors got shared with the new units. Therefore, the Special Forces presently are holding mix of Tavor’s and AKs.

Question: Are our Para special forces equipped with the latest technology and weapons? How good is the Tavor as a weapon?

Answer: Better than rest of the army, but you really cannot say it is the latest technology in the world. Moreover, equipping is not packaged and there are plenty voids. Not being packaged implies that if a 5-man assault squad is not given the complete set of weapons and equipment it is authorized that there would be that less combat capability. For example, the hand-held laser target designators are yet to be procured more than 15 years after these were authorized. There is tremendous scope of improvement in communications and surveillance systems. There is even shortage of GPS. Even rucksacks are being purchase at unit level using own funds because the ones supplied by ordnance factories directly under ministry of defence are sub-standard.

Question: What is the primary task of Indian para special forces? Are we using them Optimally?

Answer: The main task of Special Forces should be: one, employment on politico-military missions at strategic levels to shape the environment in India’s favour, and; two, act as force multiplier to operations by military. We are not using them optimally at all – employment on politico-military missions at strategic levels to shape the environment in India’s favour is totally missing.

Question: How are the countries like US, UK, and China are using their special forces?

Answer: These countries are using their Special Forces pro-actively in their areas of strategic interests with covert deployment. US Special Forces (USSF) are deployed today in some 186 countries. They also undertake direct actions in covert manner individually or in conjunction irregular forces and mercenary outfits. Same goes for UK, Russia and Pakistan. Chinese special forces along with PLA elements are deployed in development projects around the world, including in India’s immediate neighbourhood.

Question: What are the notable differences between Indian and American special forces units?

Answer: Equipping (as mentioned earlier), command and control, and employment philosophy – there is no thinking at the national level.

Question: Is Indian Intelligence working closely with Para SF? How badly do we need intelligence to work with our special forces?

Answer: There is no concept of external intelligence agencies operation together with Special Forces for strategic tasks – like practiced by US, UK, Israel, Russia, China, Pakistan. In our case that cooperation is limited to operations within J&K. That is why we have adverse strategic asymmetry vis-à-vis China-Pakistan in terms of sub-conventional warfare.

Question: Talking about two year old surgical strike, we still hear about the same in documentaries, movies or in news. Do our Special Forces need so much of exposure?

Answer: Special Forces operations are covert and are never publicized. Have you heard CIA, MI-6, Mossad, FSB, ISI, Chinese intelligence brag about their actions? Such publicity gives away capability, technical prowess, and modus operandi, all of which are dangerous for conduct of similar operations in future.

Question: The videos of Surgical strikes has been released. How does it effect our security limits or measures? Was the response of Indian Government to surgical strike was of a mature one?

Answer: Government has acted in highly immature and foolish for gaining political mileage, timing it with the next general elections, even as it violates the unwritten code of intelligence operations and special operations that are not to be made public. The surgical strikes were an excellent operation but the mere fact that these have not been repeated despite numerous terror attacks makes us the laughing stock. Besides, the self-aggrandizement that it would stop future Pakistani cross-border actions was childish. But then Defence Minister Mohan Parrikar saying that he taught the army their capabilities and sent them into POK like Hanuman shows how ridiculously juvenile our politicians are in terms of matters military. We need the response mechanism like Israel, but that looks highly unlikely because of lack of political will.

Question: As a Veteran who served for more than 40 years, what is your message for the youth who aspire to achieve Balidan Badge and serve in special forces?

Answer: These are the best forces that the Army has, that is why they are called “Special”. If the youth want to join the outfit you need determination and preparation. Having been brought up in a village of Himachal Pradesh, I did not know cycling and swimming when I joined the Indian Military Academy. So I was perpetually on punishment and even detained in the break after first term till I cleared all swimming tests. But that is an old story. For those who are interested to know more about Special Forces, you may wish to read the book ‘India’s Special Forces – history and future of India’s special forces’, published by Vij Books Private Limited, Delhi. It is also available on Amazon.