New Delhi: The Army is reviewing the selection process of its personnel volunteering for the elite special forces and airborne battalions, which are known for conducting cross-border surgical strikes and other covert operations, to expand their role in multiple operational theatres.
Top defence sources said it is being proposed that there should be a centralised training-based selection process of volunteers at the Special Forces Training School (SFTS) at Nahan in Himachal Pradesh. The school may also shift to Bakloh in the same state.
Currently, this rigorous training-based selection process, called probation, is conducted by different units of the Parachute Regiment.
The Parachute Regiment, under which come the special forces and airborne battalions, comprises specially trained personnel who volunteer from all arms and services of the Army. Officers and all other ranks can volunteer to join the regiment and the special forces.
The volunteers are put through a difficult probation of three months, and are inducted into the regiment or the special forces once they qualify.
Why the change?
According to sources, the current selection to the Parachute Regiment is conducted by the units in line with their operational requirements based on fixed theatres.
“So if a person is selected for operating in the deserts, he usually continues to operate in that theatre. But with changing operational requirements, each special forces unit may be needed to perform its role in more than one theatre,” a top defence source explained.
The source added that there is a requirement to multitask and also work in conjunction with other special forces units, and thus the need to expand the spectrum of training.
“Each soldier, after his probation, should expect and be prepared for operations in any terrain and operational environment,” the source said.
“The new system will standardise the selection and training procedures.”
A second source said the need to revisit the selection process also arose to address the shortfall of volunteers with the expansion of Parachute Regiment and special forces.
What is the current process?
According to the current process, officers who volunteer first go to the Parachute Regimental Training Centre (PRTC) in Bengaluru and are subsequently sent to the Parachute Regiment units for the probation period. However, other ranks directly go to the units for the probation.
No one organisation conducts the probation, instead it is handled by the special forces unit taking in the volunteers.
“Each special forces unit prides itself in certain traditions and ethos … the probation is to ensure that the soldier is mentally adapted to these and willing to accept them,” said the first source quoted.
Officers who volunteer directly from the Army training academies — such as the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun and the Officers Training Academy in Chennai — or after a few years of service undergo an initial month-long training at the PRTC in Bengaluru.
The Military Secretary’s Branch assigns volunteers to airborne or special forces units during the phase 1 probation based on a battalion’s officer strength.
On clearing phase 1, officers move to the phase 2 of probation for three months.
In case of jawans, new recruits go to the PRTC and undergo the entire process. Those who volunteer from other regiments directly go to the units they are detailed for, and undergo the three-month probation there.
The Parachute Regiment units are allotted by infantry directorate based on deficiencies.
Most Army personnel volunteer for the special forces within the first two years of their career.
What is the new proposal?
The Army has proposed that volunteers for the special forces and the Parachute Regiment be given a two-month notice before the selection process begins, after which a week-long preparatory phase of orientation will take place.
Once the orientation is done, the first phase of training will include a four-week selection and screening process at Special Forces Training School.
After screening, they will be allotted to Parachute or special forces battalions through a board of officers.
Once allotted a battalion, volunteers will undergo phase 2 of probation — three months of training in basic skills. This will be different for special forces and airborne volunteers.
Subsequently, the selected group will go through a third level of training, which will include four weeks of the para basic course at the Parachute Training School in Agra.
The proposal says four courses can be held throughout the year — in March, June, September and December — with a maximum of 500 volunteers per course, including officers.