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Special Forces - Garuds for All Reasons

Issue: 10-2009By Air Marshal (Retd) V.K. Bhatia

Apart from protecting the IAF’s vulnerable infrastructure and installations, Garuds engage in counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, providing aid during natural calamities and special military operations in the national interest

In Indian Hindu mythology, Garuda is de¬picted as a demi-god—a mythical being, half man and half eagle—swift, with tremendous power and Lord Vishnu’s vahan (carrier). Appropriately, ow¬ing to its attributes, Garud is also the nomencla¬ture of the recently raised Special Forces Unit of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Himalayan Eagle adorns the IAF insignia. Like the Indian Army commandos and the Indian Navy’s MARCOS (Marine Commandos), Garuds form the IAF’s commando force albeit, arguably, with much greater multi-tasking capabilities than the other two.

The genesis of the IAF commando force lies in the daring attempts by Pakistan-sponsored and trained terrorist outfits against two major air bases in Jammu and Kashmir in late 2001. Even though the attacks, aimed at the main entrances to these bases, were successfully repulsed and the terrorists eliminated, a need was felt for a specialised force to protect the IAF’s vital and vulnerable assets. While the Indian Army safeguarded selected IAF airfields, especially the ones located in terror-intense areas, its units were always moved out on rotation, necessitating repeat of training for the newly inducted units. Therefore, for certain dedicated air force tasks, the IAF decided to raise an exclusive commando force.

Initial plans mooted in early 2002 called for a specialised force with 2,000 commandos. The group, originally christened ‘Tiger Force’, was later renamed ‘Garud Force’. About a year later, in 2003, the Government of India authorised a 1,080 strong force to be raised and trained on the lines of para-commandos of the army and MARCOS of the navy but, with the additional mandate of performing niche air force specific operational tasks. Consequently, the first batch of 100 volunteers from the IAF No. 1 Airmen Training Centre at Belgaum in Karnataka was earmarked to undergo commando training in Gurgaon in Haryana. The Garud Force came into being on February 6, 2004 in Delhi with 62 out of the initial 100 volunteers successfully completing the course curriculum. The Garuds were first seen publicly during the Air Force Day celebrations at Delhi on October 8, 2004.

Training The Garuds

Unlike its counterparts in the army and navy, officer candidates for Garud commandos are selected from volunteers of other branches. Recruitment of airmen to the Garud Force is done directly through Airmen Selection Centres. Candidates found eligible for the force undergo a 52-week basic training course, which is one of the longest among all the Indian Special Forces because it also includes basic airman training.

The initial phase is a three-month probationary, mainly rigorous physical training, which filters out the promising candidates for the next higher phase. The initial phase, which usually has a high attrition rate, is conducted at the Garud Regimental Training Centre located at Air Force Station, Chandinagar, District Bagpat, Uttar Pradesh. The subsequent phase of special operations training is imparted with assistance from the special group of the Special Frontier Force, the Indian Army, the National Security Group and the para-military forces. The IAF, however, is on the threshold of establishing its own advanced training facilities. Those who qualify, proceed to the Parachute Training School at Agra to complete the basic airborne operations phase. The remainder of the phases consists of other niche fields such as jungle and snow survival, bomb demolition, and so on.

Garuds also train with the Army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School. The final phase of training consists of active operations on being attached to operationally deployed Special Forces Units of the Indian Army, which helps the Garuds to gain firsthand operational experience. After induction, the Garuds are required to hone their skills further by undergoing advanced training, including specialised weapons handling. A few selected Garuds have also undergone training in foreign countries like the US, and so on.

Present Status & Tasks

Aspiring to be a 1,500-strong force, at present there are around 1,080 Garuds. Garud air warriors are inducted as airmen within the IAF’s rank structure. The force is organised into 15 ‘Flights’. A Garud flight is roughly the equivalent of a ‘Company’ in an infantry battalion of the Indian Army and is commanded by ay an officer of the rank of Squadron Leader/Flight Lieutenant. The flights are individually based at various Air Force Stations, where they are operationally deployed.

Garuds are not limited to being a base protection force to safeguard airfields and IAF’s key assets which tasks are by and large performed by the Air Force Police and personnel from the Defence Security Corps. Specially trained Garuds operate more on the lines of the army’s para-commandos and the navy’s MARCOS to undertake missions anywhere, including behind enemy lines. However, even though trained to perform diverse and high-risk tasks, their role generally remains specific to the air force, including security of vital IAF installations in the vulnerable border areas.