Indian Armed Forces, Paramilitary Forces - An Overview

Security forces in India are covered under various topics in the General Studies syllabus of the IAS exam. Some of these topics are:

  • Security Challenges and Their Management in Border Areas
  • Various Security Forces and Agencies and Their Mandate

In this article, we will discuss the various Armed Forces of India and the role they play in the security apparatus of the country.

The various armed forces of the Union of India have separate mandates and are handled by different ministries. The majority of the external security threats in India are managed by the Ministry of Defence with the help of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Most of the internal security challenges and their management in border areas are also handled by both the Defence Ministry and the Home Ministry. Internal security threats such as insurgencies, separatism and riots etc are the primary responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs. The security forces which handle different threats in India are classified into the Indian Armed Forces, Paramilitary Forces of India and the Central Armed Police Forces. India also has dedicated Special Forces within each security force as well as two specialized Anti-Terrorism, Urban Warfare and VIP protection units.

Indian Armed Forces

The Indian Armed Forces are the military forces of India. The defence services in India consist of three uniformed services:

  • The Indian Army
  • The Indian Navy
  • The Indian Air Force

The Indian Armed Forces are supported by the Indian Coast Guard, paramilitary forces, and various other organizations. The supreme commander of the Indian Armed Forces is the President of India. All three services report to the Ministry of Defence.

The Indian Army

Indian Army or Bhartiya Thal Sena is the land-based component of the armed forces. It is evolved from the armed forces of the East India Company, ultimately turned into the British Indian Army and the Indian Army after independence. It is commanded by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). It is considered as the second largest active army in the world. The mission of the Indian Army is to guarantee the national security and defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and harmony of India from external aggression and intimidation. It also includes providing humanitarian support and aid to the common people during natural disasters and unexpected time. General Bipin Rawat, UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM is the 27th Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army.

The Para Commandos are the most well known of the Indian Army’s special forces. It undertakes operations behind enemy lines, anti-terrorist and counterinsurgency missions as well as rescue operations during natural disasters.

The Indian Navy

India has a coastline of 7516 km. The Indian Navy secures India’s maritime borders and interests. It also safeguards Indian trading vessels by combating piracy on the high seas. Along with this, it assists the common people during disasters.

The Indian Navy operates three Commands- the Eastern command (Vizag), Western command (Mumbai) and Southern Command (Kochi). The Naval forces are used to support the foreign policy objectives, to build ‘bridges of friendship’ and strengthen international cooperation. Admiral Sunil Lanba, PVSM, AVSM, ADC is the 23rd Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy.

The Marine Commando Force (MCF), also known as MARCOS is a Special Forces unit of the Indian Navy. It is involved in anti-terrorism, anti-piracy and special operations.

The Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force was officially established on 8 October 1932. It was known as the Royal Indian Air Force in recognition of its services during the Second World War. After Independence, the term ‘Royal’ was omitted. It is considered as the 4th largest Air force in the world. It has been involved in four wars with Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China. The primary responsibility of the Indian Air Force is to secure the Indian airspace and to conduct aerial warfare during a conflict. Apart from the wars of independent India and humanitarian work, it has participated in many United Nations peacekeeping missions. The Air Force Network (AFNET) launched in 2010, is a digital information grid that enabled quick and accurate threat responses. It is a fibre optic-based network on which the Integrated Air Command and Control System.

Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC is the current Chief of Air Staff.

The Garud Commando Force is the special forces unit of the Indian Air Force, engaged in tasks such as airfield protection during conflicts, suppression of enemy air defence, search and rescue of downed aircrew and humanitarian aid during disasters.

Paramilitary Forces of India

The term “paramilitary forces” in India has not been defined in any act of parliament or by the authorities. Since 2011, the Government of India uses an unofficial definition that the Paramilitary forces are the ones that assist the military forces and are headed by Military officers, not by IPS officers.

Assam Rifles

The Assam Rifles was established in 1835. It is considered as the oldest of all paramilitary forces. This force plays a crucial role in North East India, handling counterinsurgency and border security operations. They are also guarding the 1,643 km long Indo-Myanmar border since 2002. Though it is classified as a Central Armed Police Force, its tactics, training, equipment and operational mandate closely mirror those of the Indian Army. It is headed by an Army officer of the rank of Lieutenant General. It currently reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Special Frontier Force

It is based in Uttarakhand.SFF was the first special force of independent India. Special Frontier Force or Establishment 22 (pronounced Two-Two) was an outcome of the 1962 India–China War. The main task of SFF was stirring up guerrilla operations against China in Tibet during wartime. In Peacetime, they operate as a second line of defence in conjunction with the ITBP This concealed special force operates under India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing and reports directly to the Prime Minister through the Directorate General of Security in the Cabinet Secretariat.

Indian Coast Guard

The Indian Coast Guard was established on 18 August 1978 as a sovereign armed force of the country. It protects the country’s maritime interests and maritime law enforcement with jurisdiction over both territorial and international waters. This includes both the contiguous zone and exclusive economic zone. It works in close cooperation with the Indian Navy, Department of Revenue (Customs), Department of Fisheries, and the Central and State police forces.

Central Armed Police Forces

Central Armed Police Forces were formerly referred to as Paramilitary Forces. From March 2011, the Ministry of Home Affairs adopted a uniform nomenclature of Central Armed Police Forces to avoid confusion. There are seven central armed police forces. Each of these forces perform a separate function. They operate under the Ministry of Home affairs. Each of the forces is led by an IPS officer with the notable exception of the Assam Rifles which has been covered under paramilitary forces.

Border Security Force (BSF)

The BSF are the border guards of the country and are called the ‘First Wall of Defense of Indian Territories’. This Union Government Agency under the administrative control of Ministry of Home Affairs came into being in the wake of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. It ensures the security of the borders of India and headed by an officer from the Indian Police Service. It also undertakes defensive actions during wartime to free up Indian Army troops for offensive operations. Of late, the BSF has also been tasked with assisting the CRPF and army in counter-insurgency operations.

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF)

Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was established in 1969. It provides integrated security cover to the Public Sector Undertakings, airports and SEZs on a case to case basis. It is currently providing security cover to nuclear installations, space establishments, airports, seaports, power plants, sensitive Government buildings, heritage monuments and large special economic zones.

Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)

The Central Reserve Police Force was established by the enactment of the CRPF Act in 1949. Initially, it came into existence as Crown Representative’s Police in 1939 for internal security. Till 1965, CRPF guarded the India- Pakistan border. The primary mission of the Central Reserve Police Force is counter-insurgency operations. It also assists the State and Union Territories in police operations to maintain law and order. Apart from this, the force participates as a police force in the UN peace-keeping missions. The CRPF maintains a special forces unit known as Commando Battalion for Resolute Action(COBRA) to combat Maoist insurgents.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP)

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police was established after the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. It was created under the CRPF Act. It guards the Indo-Tibetan border and the mountainous regions of the India-China border and monitor the northern borders. It detects and prevents border violations. The force also keeps a check on illegal immigration and trans-border smuggling. It has been deployed in UN peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Western Sahara, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB)

The Sashastra Seema Bal was set up in 1963. They guard Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan Borders. They are also deployed during elections as polling booth security. Previously, it was known as the Special Service Bureau and they are deployed to control anti-national activities and inculcate feelings of national belonging in the border population among others. It also acts against smuggling and other illegal activities.

Special Forces of India

Apart from the special forces operating under various agencies in the country, the special forces of India also have the following units reporting directly to the Home Ministry for counter-terrorism and VIP protection activities:

National Security Guards (NSG)

The National Security Guards is a special forces unit under the Ministry of Home affairs. It was established in 1984 to counter the surge of militancy in the country. It has a highly trained force which deals with exceptional situations when local police and special forces need assistance. It was formed right after the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Operation Blue Star. It was raised to combat terrorist activities and to guarantee the states do not experience any internal disturbances. This Special Forces also come under the ministry of Home affairs. They played a crucial role in countering the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Special Protection Group (SPG)

The Special Protection Group is the most elite, nodal protection agency in the country. It was formed in 1988 by an act of the Parliament of India. It is an armed force of the Union for providing immediate security to the Prime Minister of India, the former Prime Minister and members of their close family members. The Special Protection Group (SPG) under the Cabinet Secretariat is also classified as a CAPF. It works under the control of Cabinet Secretariat.

Other Important Security Agencies In India

Railway Protection Force (RPF)

Railway Protection Force is a security force of India entrusted with protecting railway passengers, passenger area and property of the Indian Railways. This is the only Central Armed Police Force which has the power to arrest, investigate and prosecute criminals.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was set up under The Disaster Management Act, 2005. It was constituted for the function of specialist response to natural and man-made disasters. The aim of the National Disaster Management Authority is to construct a safer and disaster resilient India by rising a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster and technology-driven strategy for disaster management. It is a force composed of 12 battalions. It is manned by persons on deputation from various CAPFs and also re-employs physically fit members of the armed forces who have retired but are still under reserve liability.

Internal Security and Disaster Management is one of the most scoring topics in General Studies Paper 3. It is also one of the easiest to prepare for as most of the questions are covered under current affairs. UPSC aspirants should read more on the Armed Forces of India, their mandate and important operations to score well in this topic.

Internal Security Questions UPSC

  • The terms ‘Hot Pursuit’ and ‘Surgical Strikes’ are often used in connection with armed action against terrorist attacks. Discuss the strategic impact of such actions. (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2016)
  • Considering the threats cyberspace poses for the country, India needs “Digital Armed Forces” to prevent crimes. Critically evaluate the National Cyber Security Policy, 2013 outlining the challenges perceived in its effective implementation. (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2016)
  • Religious indoctrination via digital media has resulted in Indian youth joining the ISIS. What is ISIS and its mission? How can ISIS be dangerous for the internal security of our country? (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2015)
  • How illegal trans-border migration does pose a threat to India’s security? Discuss the strategies to curb this, bring out the factors which give impetus to such migration. (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2014)
  • China and Pakistan have agreed in the development of an economic corridor. What threat does it dispose for India’s security? Critically examine. (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2014)
  • How far are India’s internal security challenges linked with border management, particularly given the long porous borders with most countries of South Asia and Myanmar? (UPSC Civil service Main (written) Examination 2013)

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