S.S.Uban receiving the guard of Honor at Chakrata Mountain Training Facility of SFF
After the Sino-Indian war and towards the end of 1962, after hectic lobbying by Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Nehru government ordered the raising of an elite commando unit and specialized mountain divisions primarily composed of Tibetan resistance fighters. Chushi Gangdruk leaders were contacted for recruitment of Khampas into this new unit. An initial strength of 5000 men, mostly Khampas were recruited at its new Mountain Training Facility at Chakrata, Dehradun.
Established under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister, the unit under the operational command of IB and later R&AW, was designated the Special Frontier Force (SFF), and was primarily used for conducting clandestine intelligence gathering and commando operations along the Chinese Theatre. Initial training was conducted by the CIA paramilitary officers and the IB’s own special operations unit. In 1968 SFF, with the help of the Aviation Research Centre which provided airlift facilities, became fully airborne-qualified and a dedicated mountain and jungle warfare unit.
During this period the Indian government also formed the Ladakh Scouts and the Nubra Guards paramilitary force on similar lines. SFF was later incorporated in the Special Services Bureau (SSB) of R&AW.
SFF is headed by the Inspector General (IG) who works under the supervision of Director General (DG) Security, Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) who reports directly to the Director of R&AW. The current SFF force levels are around 10,000 men.
Battalions have a strength of around 900, are composed of six companies each company consisting of 123 men. There is also a force of around 700 Gorkhas in the SFF at any given time. Transport is provided by the Indian Air Force‘s Sarasawa based 117 Helicopter Unit Himalayan Dragons which provides airlift capability with its HAL Dhruvs and Mi-17Sh Transport Helicopters. ARC also provides air surveillance facilities through the Chakrata Air Base near SFF HQ.
Most training is still conducted at Chakrata, lasting nine months and is similar to India Army training, with extensive additional courses on guerrilla tactics, mountain and jungle warfare. All commandos are parachute qualified after five jumps, with three refresher jumps every year. SFF personnels are trained in four basic areas:
- Mountain: Experts in mountain and Arctic warfare, these men are trained to survive and fight in extreme conditions. Mountain troops’ skills can be called on anywhere from the Siachen Glacier to the Himalayan ranges in the east. They are also known to have trained in the famed German Alpine Guides course at the Mountain Warfare School at Mittenwald and the High Altitude Warfare School at Gulmarg reaching proficiency levels that rival the best climbers in the world.
- Amphibious: These troop’s combat divers are the outfit’s amphibious experts. In essence, it provides a comparable amphibious warfare capability to the SFF as the MARCOS provide to the Indian Navy. While they have overlapping mission profiles, the Special Group clearly does not have as extensively maritime roles. There is close cooperation and cross-training between its amphibious troops and the MARCOS — and a rivalry exists between them.
- Air: Air Troop is the Special Group’s free-fall parachuting specialists, tasked with jumping behind enemy lines, either on their own missions or to pave the way for other squadron troops. Air Troop also employ less conventional forms of air insertion such as micro-lites and powered parachutes. For HALO/HAHO combat jumps skydivers use square-type RAM parachutes which are more maneuverable also allow for softer, controlled landings than the standard round chutes.
SFF commandos training in Jungle warfare.
Jungle warfare: Jungle operations are considered to be one of the toughest in the world and more men here fall to nature than the enemy. The Special Group’s Jungle troopers are the masters in jungle craft. They are skilled at carrying out deep interdiction and search and destroy operations for extended periods of tim