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Para (Indian Special Forces)

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Para (Indian Special Forces)

Para (Special Forces)
Soldier of 9 Para (SF) carrying Tavor rifle
Active 1966–present
Country India
Branch Indian Army
Type Special forces

Primary tasks:

Other Roles:

Size 7 Battalions
Part of Parachute Regiment
Regimental Centre Bangalore
Motto "Men apart, every man an emperor"
Engagements Indo-Pakistani War of 1971,
Operation Blue Star,
Operation Cactus,
Operation Pawan,
Kashmiri hostage taking 1995,
Kargil War (1999),
Operation Rakshak,
Operation Khukri
Counter-terrorism operations in Samba
Colonel of
the Regiment
Lt Gen P. C, Katoch, PVSM, AVSM, SC
Maroon Beret, shoulder titles , and the "Balidaan" badge(PARA SF).
Sleeve Patch

Para (Special Forces) are a special forces unit of the Indian Army mandated with missions such as special operations, direct action, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, counter-insurgency, seek and destroy and personnel recovery.

Formed on July 1st 1966, the Para (Special Forces) are part of the highly trained Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army.

Because of its specified role, the regiment needs to be kept at optimum level of operational efficiency and physical fitness. Towards this end, this specially selected manpower should be comparatively young, physically fit and mentally robust, intelligent, innovative and highly motivated so as to successfully accomplish the assigned operational tasks.[1]


The parachute units of the Indian Army are among the oldest airborne units in the world. The 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was formed on 27 October 1941, comprising the British 151st Parachute Battalion, and the British Indian Army 152nd Indian Parachute Battalion and 153rd Gurkha Parachute Battalion.[2] The Parachute Regiment was formed from these and several other units in 1952.

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, an ad hoc commando unit, named Meghdoot Force, consisting of volunteers from various infantry units was organized by then Major Megh Singh of the Brigade of the Guards. The unit performed well in combat and the Government authorized the formal raising of a commando unit. Lt Col Megh Singh was selected to raise the unit which was originally intended to be a part of the Brigade of the Guards. However, recognizing parachute qualification as an integral element of special operations, the unit was transferred to the Parachute Regiment and raised as its 9th Battalion (Commando) on 1 July 1966. The erstwhile members of the Meghdoot Force formed the nucleus and the new unit was based in Gwalior. In June 1967 the unit was split equally into two to form a second commando unit, designated as 10th Battalion, both with three Companies each. 10th Battalion was mandated to operate in the Western Desert and 9th Battalion in the northern mountains. In 1969, these battalions were redesignated as 9 and 10 Para (Commando) battalions.[2]

In 1978, the 1 Para, as an experiment, was converted to become the first special forces unit of the Indian army and was kept as the tactical reserve. Already a recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation twice and GOC-in-C Eastern Command Unit Citation once, the unit was originally 1 Punjab which was later re designated as 1 PARA (PUNJAB) and in 1978 was converted to 1 PARA (SF). The unit is well over 200 years old.

1995 saw the formation of the fourth commando battalion when 21 Maratha Light Infantry was selected to convert to special forces and slated for the Eastern Command. After stringent selection and training process that spanned more than a year, on 1 February 1996, the unit under Col VB Shinde, was formally inducted as the 21st Battalion (Special Forces), The Parachute Regiment. The unit has done well in its short lifespan and is the proud recipient of the Chief of Army Staff Unit Citation twice (1992 and 2006) and GOC-in-C Eastern Command Unit Citation once (2008) among a host of individual gallantry awards.

With the changing scenario in military operations and the need for more special forces units, 2 Para began the conversion process from parachute to special forces role, followed closely by the 3 Para and the 4 Para in the year 2004 and 2005 respectively. The attempt did see a little success the reason it failed to achieve it's goal was due to the stringent selection process.

Combat History

1971 Indo-Pakistan War

During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, the '9 Para (SF)', carried out a daring 80 km-deep raid inside Pakistan's territory on the Indus Rangers HQ at Chachro (Sind). The battalion carried out many other vehicle-borne raids during the 1971 war.The first 6 man Para (SF) team performed gallantly. The 9 Para Cdo saw action through a daring raid on a Pakistani gun position at Mandhol. This raid resulted in the destruction of six 122mm guns belonging to the Pakistan Army's 172 Independent Battery. Apart from the destruction of guns, ammunition and other vital equipment, the Pakistanis suffered 437 killed, 141 wounded and a great loss of face. This raid, launched at a crucial time which enabled the 25th Infantry Division to progress their operations on Daruchian (a Pakistani occupied post), won the 9 Para (SF) the Battle Honour of Mandhol. In Bangla Desh 5 PARA BATTALION Group, which was a part of 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade carried out India's first airborne assault operation to capture Poongli Bridge in Mymensingh District near Dacca. Subsequently they were the first unit to enter Dacca. For this action 5 PARA were given the Battle Honour of Poongli Bridge and Theater Honour Dacca.[3]

Operation Bluestar 1984

In 1984 the Para (SF) were involved in Operation Blue Star. They were charged with the eviction of Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Punjab. 18 members of 1 Para (SF) were given the task of assaulting two areas of the temple, of which one area required divers. However there were a number of setbacks as a result of poor intelligence on the strength of the militants who were trained by Gen. Shabeg Singh (ex-para) himself, operating low light, the conventional manner of the raid and the lack of incentive as to not hurt the Sikh sentiment; all of which resulted in a mission failure. The diver mission was aborted after the first team got bogged down. The commandos never achieved their aims as a result of which tanks were brought in to finish the job.This action directly resulted in the establishment of the Anti-Terror National Security Guards, with specialized skills in close-quarter, urban combat.

Sri Lanka 1987

The late 1980s saw the Para (SF) in action in Sri Lanka, as part of Operation Pawan. However, lack of proper planning by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and insufficient intelligence on the LTTE's whereabouts, led the initial heli-borne assault on Jaffna University on 11 October 1987 to be a tragic failure however it was later because of the efforts of the Para (SF) that led to the capture of the jaffna peninsula , forcing the LTTE militants to take refuge in the forests.

Six soldiers lost their lives in that ill-fated mission, but unlike the Sikh Light Infantry who lost their lives gallantly fighting to the last, the Para (SF) due to their superior training, took refuge under a house, after they got misguided by a youth who offered his service to help the commandos track Prabhakaran by taking them for a wild goose chase. They engaged the enemy for a full 24 hours and picked up all their dead with their weapons after reinforcements arrived next morning.

After the failed assault on Jaffna City, the 10 Para (SF) participated in November 1987 for a heli-borne assault in the town of Moolai, 14 miles to the north-west. More than 200 LTTE guerrillas were killed and an arms depot seized. In order to give the commandos battle experience, 1 Para (SF) was rotated home in early 1988 and replaced by 9 Para (SF).

This battalion was scheduled to return home in June 1988, but the tour of duty was extended due to a planned air assault into the coastal swamps around Mullaittivu. The mission was a great success, in that it located several arms caches. The 9 Para (SF) also provided 12 men for the security of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka.

Operation Cactus 1988, Maldives

With the capture of Maldives, an island nation off the south western coast of India on 3 November 1988 by PLOTE mercenaries, the army turned to the 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade to carry out an airborne/air transported operation to liberate the country and return power to the legal government. This operation had 6 PARA spearheading the mission. 6 Para flew in on 4 November 1988 in a fleet of IL-76, An-32 and An-12 transport aircraft. One team rescued the president, another took over the airfield and a third rescued Maldivian security personnel besieged in their NSS HQ. Later 7 Para & part of 17 Para Fd Regt were also deployed to the Maldives. When mercenaries tried to escape by sea along with hostages, they were intercepted by the Indian navy. Thus, 6 Para, 17 Para Fd Regt conducted the first ever international intervention by the Indian army without any loss of life.

Kashmiri hostage-taking, July 4, 1995

Para (SF) took part in hostage rescue mission in 1995. The 1995 Kidnapping of western tourists in Kashmir was an act of kidnapping of six foreign tourists by Al-Faran, a terrorist organisation, now known as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen from the Liddarwat area of Pahalgam in Anantnag district in south Jammu and Kashmir on July 4, 1995.One hostage was later found beheaded.Later Indian Security forces decided to storm the building to rescue hostages. It was a totally successful operation all hostages were rescued & resulted in the death of the terrorist Abdul Hamid Turki, whom the army identified as an Afghan citizen and as the leader of Al-Faran, and four other Al-Faran members.

1999 Kargil War

During Kargil War Approximately 2 airborne battalions and 1 Para (SF) battalion were employed.

Operation Khukri 2000, Sierra Leone

Operation Khukri was a rescue mission conducted by the 2 PARA (SF) in Sierra Leone, June 2000. About 90 operators commanded by Major (now Lt. Col.) Harinder Sood were airlifted from New Delhi to spearhead the mission to rescue 223 men of the 5/8 Gorkha Rifles who were surrounded and held captive by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels for over 75 days , just 90 Para (SF) forced 2000-5000 members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) divided into 5 battalions to surrender that ultimately led to the liberation of Freetown

Operation Summer Storm 2009

On April 11, 2009, the 57 Mountain Division of the Indian Army based in Manipur, along with the para-military Assam Rifles and State Police, launched a counter insurgency operation, codenamed ‘Operation Summer Storm’ in the Loktak Lake area and adjoining Keibul Lamjao National Park of Bishnupur District, located south of State capital Imphal. This first major mobilisation of troops this year ended on April 21. As the troops began pulling out, the Army spokesperson described the operation as a success, disclosing that 129 militants, all belonging to the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) were killed. The Forces also claimed to have located and destroyed five militant camps during the Operation and seized 10 weapons, including sixty nine AK-series rifles, forty eight rocket launcher, and an unspecified quantity of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). No militant was arrested. No fatality among the Security Force (SF) personnel or civilians was reported.

Ongoing COIN Operations in J&K and Eastern States

Paratroopers and Para (SF) have conducted thousands of COIN operations in J&K, Assam and the eastern states in India. Sometime these units work with Rashtriya Rifles (COIN force) in complicated operations. Since the mid-1990s the role of Paratroopers and Para (SF) as a counter terrorism force has increased substantially. They are now actively involved in counter terrorist (CT) and counter insurgency (coin) operations in Kashmir as an essential part of the Home Ministry's decision to conduct pro-active raids against militants in the countryside and mountains. Personnel include Para (SF), Paratroopers (Airborne), NSG and special units of the Rashtriya Rifles - a paramilitary unit created to deal with the Kashmir insurgency. They may also include MARCOS personnel, many of whom are seconded to the Army for CT operations.

Counter terrorist operation in Samba

On September 26, 2013 terrorists dressed in Army fatigues stormed a police station and then an Army camp in Jammu region killing 10 people, including an Army officer, in twin 'fidayeen' attacks after they sneaked in from across the border early on Thursday, barely three days ahead of a meeting between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. The attack was on a police station and the 16 Cavalry unit of the Army in Samba district falls under the jurisdiction of 9 corps, headquartered at Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. The three heavily armed terrorists, believed to be from banned Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and who were holed up in the camp of the cavalry armoured unit at Samba for several hours after they barged into the Officers mess, have been killed during a fierce gunfight with 9 Para (SF) of army. The bodies of the three terrorists aged between 16 and 19 are in the custody of the Army[4]

Authorities moved commandos of 9 Para (SF) in helicopters to the shootout site. The Para (SF) commandos first carried out an aerial reconnaissance of the camp before landing there to neutralize the three terrorists. The Para (SF) had identified the exact spot during the aerial recce from where the terrorists were returning the army fire. After landing, the commandos started engaging the terrorists in a direct gunfight, but in order to give them an impression that their exact spot of hiding had still not been identified, an abandoned building inside the camp was blasted. This made the terrorists complacent that their hiding spot had not been yet been pin-pointed. They kept on intermittently returning the army fire till all three of them were eliminated. The entire operation from the moment the terrorists entered the camp and till they were gunned down took nearly nine hours to complete. The main worry of the soldiers tasked to eliminate the terrorists was the Army Public School situated some distance from the place where the terrorists had been engaged in a sustained firefight. Army men were worried about the possibility the terrorists moving into the school and taking children and staff as hostage. That is why the exercise to eliminate the terrorists was carried out with extreme caution and patience[5]


The Parachute Regiment presently has seven SpecialForces, six Airborne, two Territorial Army and one Counter-Insurgency (Rashtriya Rifles) battalions in its fold. The regiment has tried raising new battalions to augment the strength of the special forces however the task hasn't been completed due to the tough selection phase.

In the mid-1980s, there were plans of taking away the three para commando battalions from the Parachute Regiment and bringing them together under an individual specialized organisation, the Special Forces Regiment. However, after several logistic and administrative obstacles, these plans were abandoned and they continue to be trained and recruited by the Parachute Regiment.

Para (SF) operate in assault teams, which work individually behind enemy lines whereas the Paratroopers (Airborne) work in large teams and coordinate with other units as their role involves occupying large areas behind enemy lines. The total strength of the regiment stands about to 4500 with the majority being in the Paratroopers(Airborne), while the Para (SF) stands about 1200-1300 operators. They have to hide their identity from general public.


  • Intelligence collection, special reconnaissance
  • Subversion and sabotage of vital enemy infrastructure and communications through deep penetration and surgical strikes behind enemy lines.
  • Covert and overt/direct action special operations as part of the Indian Army's counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.
  • Hostage rescue operations within and beyond Indian territory.



All Indian paratroopers are volunteers. Some enter the Para regiments fresh from recruitment, while others transfer in from regular army units.[6] They are put through a probationary period / selection process of three months for Paratroopers (Airborne) Battalions (5,6,7,11,12 PARA) and seven months for Para (Special Forces) battalions (1,2,3,4,9,10,21 PARA), in order to be a Para (Special Forces) all personnel are first required to qualify as Paratroopers , once selected the person may choose to advance to the SF selection , the selection takes place twice a year in the spring and the autumn term, it is one of the longest and toughest phases in world and has reported deaths in the process itself. The attrition rate is very high and is in between 80-90 percent.


The initial training to be a special forces operator is 3.5 years but the training is an ongoing process, in the special forces, the members are imparted both basic and advance training. They are taught specialised mode of infiltration and exfiltration, either by air (combat freefall) or sea (combat diving). Some trainees return to PTS to undergo the free-fall course, which requires at least 50 jumps from altitudes up to 33,500 feet to pass. Both HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) and HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) techniques are learned. The ability to use the HAHO method and specially designed maneuverable parachutes called HAPPS (High Altitude Parachute Penetration System)/AMX-310 to conduct stealth insertions over distances up to 50 km is also perfected.[6]

For combat diving training, the commandos are sent to the Naval Diving School, Kochi.Like other special forces, these para commandos are trained for land, air and water.

Daily routine begins with a 20 km morning run. Infiltration, exfiltration, assault, room and building intervention,intelligence gathering, patrolling ,ambush tactics, counter-ambush tactis,counter insurgency ,counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, guerilla warfare, asymmetric warfare , raids & sabotage , martial arts training, tactical shooting, stress firing, reflex shooting, buddy system drills, close quarter battle, tactical driving, advance weapon courses & handling , sniping, demolition training, survival skills , linguistic training , logistic training , trade-craft training is imparted by the intelligence agencies. The training drills involve live ammunition at all times which has also become a reason for fatal accidents at times leading to death.

Night and weapons training and field craft involving 20 km treks with 60 kg (132 lb) loads and live ammunition are conducted. Weekly forced marches with 65 kg combat loads with distances over 50 to 80 miles and quarterly night drops with full combat loads are also conducted. In addition to this in-house training, the commandos also attend a number of schools run by the Army that specialize in terrain and environment warfare.[6]

These include the Junior Leaders' Commando Training Camp in Belgaum, Karnataka, the Parvat Ghatak School (for high altitude mountain warfare) in Tawang Arunachal Pradesh, Desert warfare school in Rajasthan, the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Sonamarg, Kashmir and the Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in Vairengte, Mizoram, Indian special forces training school in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh. These schools are among the finest of their kind anywhere and routinely host students from other countries.[6]

Members of USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) and UKSF (United Kingdom Special Forces) personnel have approached the Special Forces for tactical training and grants them access to the military training schools as a sign of further military cooperation between the countries. In addition they also have exchange programmes with the sf units of the different countries.

U.S. Army Special Forces have also conducted joint HAHO training with the Para (SF) in 1992, underwater training in 1995 and anti-terrorism training in 1997. It is thought that the French Foreign Legion also has approached CIJWS regarding the courses taught by them. Para (SF) can also undergo a complete Combat Divers course, in which they earn a combat diver badge.

They are also experienced in conducting SHBO (special heli-borne operations) and typically employ Cheetahs, MI-8/MI-17 or HAL (Dhruv) helicopters for this purpose.

Joint exercises with other nations

The Para (SF) conduct a series of joint exercises, named VJRA PRAHAR, with the United States Army every year, in which about 100 personal from the US and Indian special forces participate.[7] INDRA series of joint exerise with Russian special forces,[8] operation sampriti with Bangladesh special forces.[9] Para (SF) also conducts exercises and training with Special forces of Israel,[10] Ajeya Warrior series of exercise with regular infantry units of UK(as UK's special forces are highly classified), [11] Indian special forces conduct exercises with forces of the following 16 friendly countries: the United States, France, the UK, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Maldives, Seychelles, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand.[12]

International Competitions

Personnel from the Para (SF) have participated in international competitions like the Airborne Africa and The Cambrian Patrol, which was aimed to test the endurance and the combat efficiency and readiness of the special forces community, the event saw 28 and 20 participants including the forces from the U.K, U.S.A, France, Israel, Germany, Netherlands ,Russia and Pakistan. The commandos gained worldwide recognition after winning the event thrice in 2001,2002,2004 and have been winning it ever since with the latest victory in March 2013 , while they have reported success in the Cambrian Patrol as well. The commandos have won 7 out of the 8 times participated in 2001 ,2003 , 2004 , 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2013 the winning of these exercises gained them the reputation of being the toughest special forces, the fact was later corroborated by a hence,concluding their extensive use in peacekeeping operations which have reported a higher success rate than the previous task forces that excluded Indian special forces.


Para (SF) have access to various types of infantry weapons required for particular missions.

Small Arms

All the equipment for the para commandos are manufactured indigenously by the Indian Ordnance Factories controlled by the Ordnance Factories Board, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.



Para (SF) personnel, like other parachute troops in the Indian military, wear a maroon beret. In addition, they wear a 'Special Forces' tab on each shoulder. Personnel who serve in the Para (SF) are allowed to wear the 'Balidaan' (Sacrifice) badge after having served a period of one year in a hostile zone. They are the only units in the Indian Army allowed to have tattoos on their body. MARCOS personnel deputed to Para (SF) units may grow beards, as this is allowed in the Indian Navy. However shaved heads are still not allowed in any branch of the Indian Armed Forces.

See also


  1. ^ Specialist Forces - Para Commandos
  2. ^ a b Parachute Regiment, India on
  3. ^ Rao, K. V. Krishna (1991). Prepare Or Perish: A Study of National Security. Lancer International. pp. 214, 217, 223, 238, 239. ISBN . 
  4. ^ Court of inquiry ordered into terror attack on army camp in Samba - Times Of India
  5. ^ Battle of Samba: How army subdued fidayeens | Business Standard
  6. ^ a b c d Para Commandos at Bharat
  7. ^ Indian and US special forces to conduct counter-terror exercise - Times Of India
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Indo-Bangla Special Forces to hold joint drills -
  10. ^ India, Israel may hold joint Special Forces' exercise
  11. ^ India, UK armies to hold joint exercise in April -
  12. ^ Army to hold joint exercises with 16 friendly forces

External links

  • Jawed Naqwi, India had planned offensive, Dawn, 24 December 2002.
  • Para Commandos
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