Enabling India’s Finest Soldiers: What Tomorrow’s Special Forces Need to Succeed

Special Forces continue to deter our adversaries and fill warfighting gaps, especially in irregular warfare.

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Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan
Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd) served in the Indian Army, Armoured Corps, 65 Armoured Regiment, 27 August 83- 07 April 2007. Operational experience in the Indian Army includes Sri Lanka – OP PAWAN, Nagaland and Manipur – OP HIFAZAT, and Bhalra - Bhaderwah, District Doda Jammu and Kashmir, including setting up of a counter-insurgency school – OP RAKSHAK. He regularly contributes to Defence and Security issues in the Financial Express online, Defence and Strategy, Fauji India Magazine and Salute Magazine. *Views are personal.

Special Forces are military assets designed and trained to conduct tactical actions delivering strategic outcomes out of proportion with their size and that, if undertaken by conventional units, may have a disproportionately negative impact on policy.  

Humans are more important than hardware. Every effort is only possible with an essential resource, the volunteers who willingly put their lives in harm’s way to secure our national interests. 

Special Forces continue to evolve to meet the unique challenges to optimise their physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and cognitive performance. Special Forces continue to deter our adversaries and fill warfighting gaps, especially in irregular warfare. In the Indian context, Information Warfare is an aspect on which the Special Forces should focus and should be part of the National Strategy on Information Warfare, thereby providing options for our nation’s leaders yet creating dilemmas for our adversaries.

One of the significant areas for improvement is the need for a National Strategic Study to continuously evaluate and assess the global, regional and national threats, including space, to mitigate the same by foresight, planning, training and a robust supply chain management in place.

Special operations forces emerged from the crucible of World War II combat, matured during the Cold War, and established their worth in subsequent conflicts. In India, the Special Forces have delivered in all conflicts we have been engaged in post-independence. For the future, they are an excellent resource that provides creative tailorable and asymmetric options for our nation while creating dilemmas for our adversaries.

 Global Trends – Special Forces 

Regarding how the Indian Special Forces compare with these global trends, the Indian Special Forces are the most capable and professional Special Forces units globally. They have a long history of successful operations, including the 2016 surgical strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan. However, like all Special Forces units, they must continue to adapt to evolving global trends and maintain their capabilities through ongoing training and development.

Special Forces worldwide are adapting to evolving global trends in military operations, and the Indian Special Forces are no exception. Some of the global trends in Special Forces include: –

Focus on Irregular Warfare

Special Forces specialise in irregular warfare scenarios, including counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and unconventional warfare. Special Forces must have a deep understanding of local cultures, languages, and terrain and be able to operate in austere environments with limited support.

Emphasis on Joint Operations

Special Forces are increasingly integrated with conventional military forces to conduct joint operations. As a result, special Forces should be able to work seamlessly with other units and deeply understand the broader mission objectives.

Greater Reliance on Technology

Special Forces increasingly use advanced technology, including crewless aerial vehicles (UAVs), artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber capabilities, to support their mission objectives.

 Focus on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief

Special Forces are increasingly being called upon to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the wake of natural disasters and other crises.

Need for Speed and Agility

Special Forces respond quickly to emerging threats and can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

 Art of War – Special Forces

 The principles of Sun Tzu emphasised the importance of adapting to changing circumstances, knowing the enemy and oneself, and using unconventional tactics to achieve victory. Special Forces operators must be able to think creatively and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances while maintaining a deep understanding of the mission objectives and the broader geopolitical context. 

They must also work collaboratively with allies and partners to achieve shared objectives while maintaining a deep understanding of the cultural and political dynamics of the deployed regions. By applying these principles, Special Forces operators can effectively merge the latest global trends into the Art of War to achieve success in complex and challenging military operations.

By following these principles, commanders can effectively plan and execute military operations, adapting to changing circumstances and out-manoeuvring their adversaries to achieve victory.

The Art of War is a legendary military strategy treatise authored by the ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu. The principles of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War are still extensively studied and applied in modern military, business, and other areas. Some of The Art of War’s fundamental principles include: –

Know Yourself and Your Enemy

According to Sun Tzu, knowing yourself and your enemy is the key to victory. This means understanding your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your adversary.

Planning and Preparation

Sun Tzu emphasised the importance of planning and preparation in achieving victory. He argued that victory could be achieved through careful planning and thorough preparation rather than relying on brute force or chance.

Deception and Misdirection

Sun Tzu believed that deception and misdirection could be powerful tools for victory. You can trick your opponent into making mistakes by appearing weaker than you are or by creating the illusion of strength where there is none.

Adaptation and Flexibility

Sun Tzu believed that adaptability and flexibility are essential to military success. Successful commanders, he argued, must be able to adapt to shifting conditions and modify their strategies accordingly.

Leadership and Discipline

Sun Tzu believed that effective leadership and discipline are essential to success in military operations. He argued that leaders must lead by example and inspire their troops through courage and discipline.

Understanding the Terrain and Environment

Sun Tzu argued that understanding the terrain and environment is essential to success in military operations. He believed commanders must deeply understand the geography, weather, and other environmental factors that impact military operations.

Special Forces Command – National Security Advisor’s Secretariat

The Special Forces Command must have a macro-level focus to ensure it is prepared to respond to global contingencies. The command requires close collaboration with other government agencies and international partners and a clear understanding of national security objectives. 

The command should be responsible for the development and execution of Special Forces strategies and policies, coordinating Special Forces operations and training, and overseeing Special Forces units.

The Special Forces Command should also be responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with international partners to support global contingency planning and response. This could include training exercises and joint operations with allied Special Forces units to ensure interoperability and collaboration during a crisis.

Regarding organisational structure, the Special Forces Command could be part of the National Security Advisor’s secretariat. However, depending on the country’s specific requirements and organisational structure, it could also be a separate entity. 

Regardless of its location within the government, the Special Forces Command must have a direct line of communication with the highest levels of government to ensure that it can respond quickly and effectively to global contingencies.

Indian Special Forces for the Next Millennium 

Based on current trends and prospective future developments in technology, warfare, and global security, the Indian Special Forces may need to consider the following requirements. The actual requirements would depend on a variety of factors, including geopolitical developments, technological advancements, and military strategies: –

Advanced Training and Education

With the rapid evolution of technology and warfare tactics, Indian Special Forces must stay updated with the latest techniques and training methods to remain effective. This would involve continuous education and training programs within and outside the country.


The Indian Special Forces must be adaptable to various combat scenarios and environments, including urban, jungle, desert, and mountain warfare. They should also be able to work in different situations, including low-intensity conflicts, counterterrorism operations, and high-intensity battles.

Intelligence Gathering

Gathering and analysing intelligence are crucial for any successful military operation. Indian Special Forces would need access to advanced intelligence-gathering technologies, including satellite imaging, drone surveillance, and cyber intelligence.

Technological Advancements

With new technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and cyber warfare, the Indian Special Forces must be equipped with the latest and most advanced equipment to stay ahead of potential adversaries.

Cyber and Technical Skills

Special Forces operators must be proficient in using advanced technology, including crewless aerial vehicles (UAVs), artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber capabilities.

Inter-Service Cooperation

Cooperation and coordination between various military branches, including the Indian Army, Navy, and Air Force, would be essential to ensure effective operations in the future.

Cultural Understanding

In an increasingly interconnected world, understanding different cultures and languages would be crucial for the Indian Special Forces. This would help them to operate effectively in foreign territories and engage with local populations.

Qualitative Requirements – Special Forces

The qualitative requirements of Special Forces personnel should be carefully considered to ensure they can meet the demands of their complex and high-risk operations. The training and selection process should be rigorous and thorough to ensure that only the best candidates are selected for these elite units.

Some of the essential requirements that should be considered include the following: –

Physical Fitness and Endurance

Special Forces personnel must have excellent physical fitness and endurance to operate in challenging and diverse environments, including mountainous terrain, jungle, and urban settings. They must be able to carry heavy loads, move quickly and quietly, and remain alert for long periods.

Mental Toughness

Special Forces personnel must possess exceptional mental toughness to operate in high-stress situations and make difficult decisions quickly and effectively. They must maintain focus and concentration under pressure and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

They have specialised Training and Skills

Special Forces personnel must undergo rigorous training and have specialised skills in various areas, including weapons, combat tactics, first aid, survival, and communication. In addition, they must be proficient in various weapons systems and able to operate and maintain a wide range of equipment and technology.

Teamwork and Collaboration

Special Forces personnel must be able to work effectively as part of a team and collaborate with other units, including local security forces and international partners. They must communicate clearly and effectively and build and maintain positive working relationships with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. 

Leadership and Decision-Making

Special Forces personnel must possess strong leadership skills and make sound decisions under difficult and complex conditions. They must be able to delegate tasks effectively, provide clear direction to team members, and take responsibility for the outcome of their actions.

Special Forces – as part of Diplomatic Missions 

The Central Industrial Police Force forms part of our embassies/high commissions where threats are imminent in places like Kabul. However, the role of the Special Forces is not to provide perimeter and close protection to the diplomatic staff as a primary task; the primary task is to understand the local culture and languages, familiarise them with the likely area of operations, and develop sources.

Special Forces personnel’s innate skills should be used to assist with collecting and analysing intelligence and help plan and execute operations to achieve diplomatic objectives. For example, in situations with a threat of terrorism, Special Forces personnel could work alongside diplomats and local security forces to help secure the area and neutralise any potential threats.

This does not suggest that the Special Forces operators overshadow the diplomatic initiative. It is important to balance security and diplomatic requirements. Diplomats must maintain their independence and impartiality while engaging with foreign governments.

Ultimately, the decision to post Special Forces personnel as part of diplomatic missions abroad would depend on the specific circumstances of each mission and would need to be carefully considered in consultation with diplomatic, military, and security experts.

Special Forces – Human Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR)

 Special Forces can provide various essential services and support in HADR operations. Their specialised training, expertise, and equipment make them well-suited to operate in challenging and complex environments. Their rapid deployment capabilities can ensure that relief efforts are launched quickly and effectively.

Some of the roles and tasks Special Forces may perform in HADR operations include: –

Search and Rescue

Special Forces personnel are trained in various rescue operations, including urban search and rescue, water rescue, and high-altitude rescue. They can help to locate and extract survivors from disaster zones and provide emergency medical care.

Emergency Relief

Special Forces can provide essential relief supplies to affected populations, including food, water, shelter, and medical supplies. They can also help to set up emergency communication systems to facilitate relief efforts.

Infrastructure Support

Special Forces can assist with repairing and restoring critical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports. They can also help to clear debris and create temporary shelters for displaced persons.

Security and Protection

Special Forces can provide security and protection to relief workers and affected populations when there is a risk of violence or conflict. They can help to secure distribution sites and protect vulnerable populations from harm.

Coordination and Planning

Special Forces can work alongside local authorities and relief organisations to coordinate relief efforts and plan for long-term recovery. They can provide expertise in logistics, communications, and other critical areas to ensure that relief efforts are practical and efficient.

Special Forces – Futuristic Technologies  

There are futuristic technologies that could assist Special Forces in completing their missions. However, the existing technologies and their applications would depend on specific mission requirements and available resources. Therefore, the equipment and technology that form part of a Special Forces operator’s arsenal should be carefully selected and tailored to their mission objectives. 

Additionally, this equipment should be reliable, lightweight, and easy to use, allowing operators to focus on their mission without being encumbered by excessive gear.

Several futuristic technologies could assist Special Forces in completing their missions. Some of these technologies include:

Autonomous Systems

Autonomous systems, including drones, crewless ground vehicles, and robots, can provide situational awareness and surveillance and even execute some tasks, reducing the risk to human operators. These systems can be used for surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance in various environments, including urban, jungle, desert, and mountain terrain.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality technology can be used to provide real-time information to Special Forces personnel, enhancing their situational awareness and allowing them to make more informed decisions. For example, augmented reality glasses could display vital information such as maps, mission objectives, and enemy positions.

Wearable Technology

During missions, wearable technology such as smartwatches, fitness monitors, and biometric sensors can be used to monitor and track Special Forces personnel’s health and well-being. This information can be used to optimise performance and prevent injuries.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to analyse vast amounts of data, including sensor data, satellite imagery, and social media feeds, to provide real-time intelligence and help predict potential threats. AI can also be used to enhance decision-making processes and optimise mission planning.

Directed Energy Weapons

Directed energy weapons, including lasers and microwave weapons, can provide non-lethal options for Special Forces personnel to incapacitate enemies or disable vehicles and equipment. Additionally, these weapons could be used when lethal force is not necessary or appropriate.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing can process vast amounts of data at incredible speeds, allowing Special Forces to analyse and process intelligence in real-time. This technology could also be used to improve the security of communications and data transmission security, ensuring that mission-critical information remains secure.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This includes body armour, helmets, and ballistic eyewear, which protect from small arms fire and fragmentation.

Advanced Communication Systems

Special Forces operators require reliable and secure communication systems to maintain communication with their team and command structure. This includes encrypted radios, satellite phones, and other communication devices.

Navigation and Tracking Systems 

Special Forces operators require navigation and tracking systems to maintain situational awareness and track their field position. This includes GPS devices, compasses, and other navigation equipment.

Night Vision and Thermal Imaging Technology

Special Forces operators often operate in low-light or no-light environments and require the ability to see in the dark. This includes night vision goggles and thermal imaging cameras.

Drones and UAVs

Special Forces operators can use drones and UAVs for reconnaissance, surveillance, and intelligence gathering. This technology can provide critical information without putting operators in harm’s way.

Weapons and Ammunition

Special Forces operators require a range of weapons and ammunition to complete their missions effectively. This includes rifles, pistols, machine guns, grenades, and other specialised weapons.

Medical Equipment

Special Forces operators require medical equipment and supplies to provide immediate medical care. This includes trauma kits, tourniquets, and other medical supplies.

Special Dietary Supplements – Special Forces 

While these supplements may be beneficial, they are not a substitute for a well-balanced diet. Instead, special Forces operators should work with a qualified healthcare professional to develop a nutrition plan that meets their needs and supports their mission objectives.

Special Forces operators require a well-balanced diet to maintain their physical and mental fitness, which is critical to their mission success. Despite the fact that dietary supplements may provide some benefits, they should be used with caution because they may interact with prescription drugs or cause adverse side effects.

That being said, some dietary supplements may be beneficial for Special Forces operators during extended missions, including: –


Caffeine is a stimulant that can help to improve alertness and cognitive function. It is commonly found in beverages such as coffee, tea, and energy drinks.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the brain’s functioning and can aid in inflammation reduction and cardiovascular health improvement. They are commonly found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is necessary for immune function and bone health. It is generated naturally in the body when exposed to sunlight, but it can also be obtained from fatty fish, fortified foods, and supplements.


Iron is essential for oxygen transport and energy metabolism. Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue and decreased cognitive function. Iron can be found in red meat, poultry, fish, and fortified foods.


Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, sodium and magnesium that are essential for maintaining fluid balance and nerve function. They can be found in sports drinks, electrolyte tablets, and other supplements.

Maintaining and Honing the Cutting Edge – Special Forces

Keeping the Special Forces young and at the cutting edge requires a commitment to continuous training and development, incorporating new technologies, and recruiting young talent. These measures can ensure that Special Forces units remain highly capable and effective in a rapidly changing global security environment.

Special Forces must be kept young and at the cutting edge at the operational/tactical level; the following suggestions could be considered:

Continuous Training and Development

Special Forces personnel should undergo continuous training and development to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest tactics, techniques, and technologies. This could include participation in specialised courses and training exercises, attending conferences and seminars, and ongoing professional development.

Rotation and Deployment

Special Forces personnel should be rotated and deployed to different environments and regions to gain a broad range of operational experience. This can prevent burnout and ensure personnel are exposed to diverse operational challenges.

 Incorporation of New Technologies

Special Forces units should incorporate new technologies and equipment to stay at the cutting edge of their field. This could include using crewless aerial vehicles (UAVs), advanced communication systems, and advanced medical equipment.

Collaboration with Industry

Special Forces units should collaborate with industry partners to develop and test new technologies and equipment. This could include working with defence contractors to develop specialised equipment or with tech companies to develop innovative solutions to operational challenges.

Recruitment of Young Talent

Special Forces units should actively recruit young talent to ensure the force remains young and dynamic. This could include offering incentives for young people to join the Special Forces, such as student loan repayment or other financial incentives.

Volunteers from outside the Military

While recruiting volunteers from outside the military for Special Forces units is possible, it is generally not recommended. Military personnel are best suited for Special Forces operations due to their physical and mental fitness, familiarity with military structure and hierarchy, and security clearances.

Special Forces are highly specialised military units requiring rigorous training, discipline, and expertise. While recruiting volunteers from outside the military is possible, it is generally not recommended for several reasons.

Firstly, Special Forces units require high physical and mental fitness, typically developed through military training. Therefore, while civilians may possess some relevant skills, they may have different physical and mental fitness levels required for Special Forces operations.

Secondly, Special Forces units operate in a highly structured and hierarchical environment. Military personnel are accustomed to this structure and have undergone training preparing them to operate within a military chain of command. Civilian volunteers may need to be more accustomed to this structure, and integrating them into the unit could prove challenging.

Thirdly, Special Forces units require a high level of security clearance, typically only granted to military personnel. Obtaining security clearance for civilian volunteers can be a time-consuming and challenging process.

Finally, military personnel who join Special Forces units have already demonstrated their commitment to serving their country through their service in the military. This commitment

Special Forces – Space

 The future of Special Forces operators in space will depend on the extent to which humans continue to explore and exploit space and the potential threats and challenges that may arise in this domain. As space exploration and exploitation activities expand, there could be a growing need for Special Forces operators to support these endeavours. Here are some potential roles that Special Forces operators could play in space:

Protection of space assets 

As more countries and companies launch satellites and other space-based assets, there will be a greater need for protecting these assets from physical and cyber-attacks. Special Forces operators could be trained to protect these assets and respond to security breaches.

Search and rescue

Special Forces operators could be called upon to conduct search and rescue missions for astronauts and other space travellers who may become stranded or lost during space missions.


Special Forces operators could be trained to respond to and neutralise threats in the event of a terrorist attack or hijacking in space.


Special Forces operators could gather intelligence on potential threats to space assets or identify potential sites for future space exploration or exploitation activities.


Special Forces operators could train astronauts and other space personnel on survival, combat, and other skills necessary for a space-based emergency.

Hypersonic Transportation Systems – Special Forces

Hypersonic transportation systems and weapons offer the potential for faster and more efficient transportation of special forces personnel and the ability to strike targets quickly from long distances. However, developing and deploying these systems also raises several ethical and strategic questions, including concerns about potential unintended consequences and escalation in conflicts.

There have been several recent developments in hypersonic transportation systems that could be applicable for special forces operations. Here are some examples:

The U.S. Air Force has been developing the X-51A Waverider, a hypersonic vehicle capable of flying up to Mach 6 (approximately 4,600 miles per hour). This technology could be used for transporting special forces personnel to their destination quickly and with minimal risk of detection.

In 2018, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded contracts to three companies to develop hypersonic weapons. These weapons could provide air support for special forces on the ground.

The U.S. Navy is developing a hypersonic glide vehicle, the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) weapon, which could be used for conventional and special forces operations. The CPS is designed to be launched from a submarine and can travel up to Mach 5.

In 2020, the U.S. Army awarded a contract to Dynetics, Inc. to develop a hypersonic weapon system that could be used for long-range strikes in support of special forces operations. The system is designed to be air-launched and can travel up to Mach 5.

Role of Women – Special Forces

The role of women in Special Forces has been a topic of debate and discussion in many countries around the world. In recent years, several countries have opened opportunities for women to serve in their special forces units. The role of women in special forces is still evolving, but many countries are recognising the important contributions that women can make to these elite units.

Some countries have fully integrated women into their special forces units, allowing them to participate in all combat roles. Other countries have opened up limited roles for women in special forces, such as intelligence or support.

Women who serve in special forces face unique challenges and barriers. Physical and mental requirements for special forces are rigorous and demanding, and women may face additional scrutiny and discrimination. However, with the proper training, preparation, and support, women can excel in special forces and contribute to their units.

To retain their moral ascendancy and warfighting capabilities, Special Forces must be ahead of their adversaries and the threat they impose on India’s interests at home or assets in different geographical territories. 


  1. Manoj
    A great painstaking and research has gone into this wonderful article. My compliments. However May I request you to also deliberate on employment of special forces as is being done now. I feel more thought is to be given to this as this is a strategic resource which cannot be employed on tasks which can be accomplished by other units of the Army. Also need to look into AFSOD structure. As also the leadership of this organisation. Much to work on this. Otherwise we will fritter away this valuable resource
    Great work once again


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