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This article is organised as follows:

  • Part 01: Introduction to Ghatak Army Platoons.
  • Part 02: Hierarchy of Ghatak Army Platoons.
  • Part 03: Organisation of Ghatak Army Platoons.
  • Part 04: Recruitment, Selection and Training of Ghatak Army Platoons.
  • Part 05: Training Establishments.
  • Part 06: Miscellaneous.

1.0     Introduction

“We make Men Out of Boys”
Board at the entrance to the Commando Wing.

ghatak-3This article is about the Ghatak Army Platoons, which is one of two Elite Forces (EF) of the Indian Army (the other being the Parachute (Airborne) battalions of the Indian Army’s Parachute Regiment).

The Ghatak Army Platoons are also known as Ghatak Platoons, the Ghatak Commando Force, Ghatak Commandos and Ghatak Force.

Ghatak Army Platoons are a not a special missions nor special operations unit, they can be more accurately described as a specialised/elite Infantry force trained to a higher standard than the general Infantry force. Although some commentators would describe them as “trained and equipped for special operations.” (Bedi, 2015) or as “The Ghatak special forces of the Army’s infantry battalions…” (Chandramohan, 2013, p.5), Katoch (2011), a former General and SF officer, is explicit about which units are Special Forces (SF) and which units might be Special Operations Forces (SOF); the Ghatak Force is not mentioned under either heading.

The Ghatak Army Platoons are somewhat comparable with the US Army’s Rangers and the British Royal Marines. There is a Ghatak Army Platoon, consisting of approximately 20 personnel, within every Infantry battalion of the Indian Army. This would suggest an available strength of 7,000 Ghatak-trained personnel.

True to its name, the Ghatak (which means deadly in Hindi) Army Platoon spearheads strikes ahead of a battalion.

This article will provide the reader with an outline of the Indian Army’s Ghatak Platoons, providing a brief history and their role and purpose. It will then provide an overview of the hierarchy and organisation of Ghatak Platoons before moving on to outline the selection and training process. Finally, the article will discuss some of the training establishments which deliver training to Indian Army Commando candidates before providing some useful links, publications and references.

1.1     Ghatak Commando Course versus Ghatak Commando Course!

Whilst conducting research for this article is quickly became clear that there are two separate courses provided by the Indian Army that use the title Ghatak:

  • Junior Leader’s Commando Training Course; and
  • High-Altitude Commando Course.

This article will discuss the recruitment, selection and training undertaken on both courses.

1.2     Brief History of Ghatak Army Platoons

Prior to 1999, despite having a long, sensitive border along the world’s highest mountain range, the Indian Army had a paucity of battalions specialised in mountain warfare. The Kargil War in 1999 demonstrated that India was at a disadvantage.

Consequently, the Indian Army established the High-Altitude Commando School, also known as the Parvat Ghatak School, at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh which was operated by the Korea Brigade (named for having undertaken peacekeeping operations in the 1950s in Korea) (Gokhale, 2006). Although a decade later it appears the school is now known as the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) and located in Kashmir (Hooda, 2016).

The school has the highest altitude of any similar military establishment and, with temperatures dipping to minus 20 degrees and training at altitudes of up to 15,000 feet, the Indian Army could not have chosen a more austere environment or tougher terrain in which to impart training.

The need for a Junior Leader’s Commando-style course was identified after the Indo-China debacle in 1962. The Indian Army’s Infantry School, located in Mhow, was given the task of establishing a training centre and curriculum.

Commissioned officers were sent abroad to undertake Commando courses and understand what would be required in the curriculum. On 11 January 1964, the Commando Wing opened its doors to the first batch of hopefuls.

From 1964 to 1970, the course was open to officers from all branches. From 1970, the course became mandatory for all Infantry officers. In 1971, the Commando Wing moved to its present location of Belgaum.

1.3     General Duties of Special Operations Forces

SOF personnel are required to infiltrate and exfiltrate to and from operational areas dismounted, carrying heavy loads and manipulating personal and support weapons systems and other heavy equipment. SOF personnel perform insertions and assaults on targets by:

  • Parachuting onto ground or into water;
  • Climbing ladders and cliffs;
  • Rappelling;
  • Conducting close-quarters battle (CQB); and
  • Battle drills in varying types of terrain and climatic conditions day or night.

SOF personnel are also required to board ocean vessels while they are underway from another floating or airborne platform in all sea states day or night, and where speed and stealth are imperative. These duties are performed while wearing heavy rucksack and body armour. SOF personnel perform individual CQB and detainee handling which may require the individual to:

  • Combat and detain another person using blocking strikes;
  • Disarming;
  • Lifting;
  • Pulling;
  • Ground fighting;
  • Grappling; and
  • Moving a non-compliant person.

There is no tolerance for a lapse in attention when conducting CQB and other assaults while wearing night vision goggles as well as Special Operations Insertion and Extraction (SOIE) techniques. Accurate discrimination of non-combatants and precision engagement of enemy combatants requires extreme concentration.

Similarly, high-risk roped and un-roped insertions with no redundant safety systems require constant attention. SOF personnel require the ability for continuous analysis of the situation, environment, mission aims and unique foreign societal complexities during operations.

1.4     Role and Purpose of Ghatak Army Platoons

ghatak-2Ghatak Army Platoons “…are trained to act as the heavily armed spearheads or shock troops in the event of a large-scale ground assault.” (Rehman, 2015).

To achieve this role, Ghatak Forces conduct the following missions:

  • Raids on enemy:
    • Artillery positions;
    • Airfields; and
    • Supply dumps; and tactical headquarters.
  • Directing artillery and air attacks on targets behind enemy lines.

Personnel are also trained in heliborne assault, rock climbing, mountain warfare, demolitions, advanced weapons training, close quarter battle and infantry tactics.

Bedi (2015) suggests more roles for the Ghatak Force:

“There are more maroon berets (of the SF) visible in Kashmir than necessary. For such an elite force with a seemingly diverse orientation to be employed on search-and-cordon and long-range path finding tasks and execute attacks on terrorist hideouts is, simply, overkill. All such responsibilities can easily be effected by the infantry’s Ghatak commando platoons, trained and equipped for special operations.”

1.5     Insignia

No information available.

2.0     Hierarchy of Ghatak Army Platoons

This section provides an outline of the civilian and military personalities and organisations that have some form of control, impact or direction over the Indian Army’s Ghatak Army Platoons.

2.1     Ministry of Defence

The Defence Minister, or Raksha Mantri, is the head of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) which is comprised of four Departments and one division:

  • Department of Defence (DOD);
  • Department of Defence Production (DDP);
  • Department of Defence Research & Development (DDR&D);
  • Department of Ex-Servicemen Welfare; and
  • Finance Division.

The Defence Secretary functions as head of the DOD and is additionally responsible for co-ordinating the activities of the four Departments in the MOD. The DOD deals with the Integrated Defence Staff, the three branches of military service and various inter-service organisations. It is also responsible for the Defence Budget, establishment matters, defence policy, matters relating to Parliament, defence co-operation with foreign countries and co-ordination of all defence related activities.

2.2     Directorate of Military Operations

The Directorate of Military Operations (DMO), located in New Delhi, is led by the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO), a Lieutenant General (OF-8).

DMO is responsible for future and extant operational planning.

2.3     Commanding Officer, Infantry Battalion

The Commanding Officer (CO), a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4), of each Infantry battalion exerts operational and administrative control over their Ghatak Army Platoon.

2.4     Platoon Commander

Each Ghatak Army Platoon is led by a Platoon Commander, a Captain (OF-2).

3.0     Organisation of Ghatak Army Platoons

ghatak-1As well as the traditional leadership and staff officer roles identified above, each Ghatak Army Platoon has personnel in enabler roles and personnel from the battalion (and perhaps other conventional units) act in supporter and other roles (e.g. administrative and logistical).

Ghatak Army Platoons may act in the supporter role for the Indian Army’s Para (SF) battalions.

There is a Ghatak Army Platoon, consisting of approximately 20 personnel, within every one of the approximately 350 Infantry battalions of the Indian Army. This would suggest an estimated available strength of 7,000 Ghatak-trained personnel (not including Ghatak-trained personnel in non-Ghatak Force posts).

A Ghatak Army Platoon has a nominal strength of 20 personnel whose primary role is to act as Assault Troopers. However, besides the Platoon Commander and two non-commissioned officers (NCOs), personnel may fulfil one of several other roles such as:

  • Sniper;
  • Light machine gunner; and/or
  • Radio operator.

4.0     Selection and Training: High-Altitude Commando Course

This section provides an outline of the selection and training process that all candidates for the High-Altitude Commando Course must undertake.

4.1     Pre-Selection

Must be a member of the Indian Army.

4.2     Selection

The following criteria apply to candidates:

  • Age: the upper age limit is 30.
  • Rank:
    • Officers must be 2nd Lieutenants, Lieutenants or Captains.
    • Other Ranks must be NCOs.
  • Mandatory for all Infantry and mechanised officers (officers from other branches can attend on a fill-up basis).

4.3     Training

“The Parvat Ghatak school combines the best elements of the Commando Training School in Belgaum, Karnataka, and the High-Altitude Warfare School at Sonamarg, near Srinagar. Those who come here are trained in both commando tactics and ways to survive high altitudes.” Lieutenant General D.B. Shekatkar speaking in 2006 (Gokhale, 2006).

ghatak-4Candidates undertake training as part of a platoon which is composed of one commissioned officer, one NCO and 26 Other Ranks.

Training is 4-weeks in duration, but this does not include any acclimatisation period. Thus, candidates will undergo two phases of training (Gokhale, 2006):

  • Phase 1: Acclimatisation:
    • First Halt: The first halt of six days is at an altitude of 9,000 feet. Candidates rest on the first two days, short walks on days 3-4, followed by walks of at least 5 km on days 5-6.
    • Second Halt: The second halt is at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Candidates follow a similar, but shortened, routine to the first halt at this height.
    • After the second halt candidates are ready for heights above 15,000 feet.
  • Phase 2: High-Altitude:
    • Section 1: Toughening/preparation exercises.
    • Section 2: Assault course (consisting of Lion Jump, Monkey Rope, Leopard Crawl, Ghatak Crawl and the Burma Rope Bridge).
    • The Ghatak Crawl involves crawling under barbed wire for a minimum of 50 metres carrying all personal combat equipment (i.e. rifle and webbing).
    • Section 3: Rock craft.
    • Section 4: Marksmanship.

During the first week, the earlier part of the day is devoted to sheer physical exercise where trainees walk long distances, progress to a bit of jogging and then running. In the latter half, classroom-based theory sessions on various technical matters such as laying improvised explosive devices (IEDs), setting ambushes and honing direction finding skills with a compass are taught, and other military arts developed.

4.4     Graduation

Information on the pass rate (attrition rate) is currently unavailable.

5.0     Selection and Training: Junior Leader’s Commando Course

This section provides an outline of the selection and training process that all candidates for the High-Altitude Commando Course must undertake.

5.1     Pre-Selection

Must be a member of the Indian Army.

5.2     Selection

The following criteria apply to candidates (ITBP Academy, 2013):

  • Officers:
    • Should have completed Young Officers Course of their respective arm/service;
    • Medical Category Shape-1;
    • Must not have been in a low medical category during the six months preceding the course; and
    • Aged below 27 years.
  • NCOs:
    • Map reading standard one;
    • Medical Category (AYE);
    • Must not have been in a low medical category during the six months preceding the course;
    • Age limit of 33 years; and
    • Should have minimum of 5 years’ service.

5.3     Training

ghatak-5Candidates will attend one of two courses based on their rank (ITBP Academy, 2013):

  • Ghatak (O):
    • Is for officer candidates who will attend one of three courses delivered each year, with approximately 150 students per course (450 per year).
    • The purpose of the course is to train officers in the techniques of planning and conducting commando type operations to enable them to lead special missions and to develop in them qualities of military leadership.
    • The course is delivered in English (Roman Hindi).
  • Ghatak (N):
    • Is for NCO candidates who will attend one of three courses delivered each year, with approximately 208 students per course (624 per year).
    • The purpose of the course is to train junior leaders in the acquisition of individual battle skills and enhance their physical and mental capabilities so as to enable them to lead assault team (independently) or as a part of platoon/assault platoon of Infantry battalions in special mission role in any operation of war.
    • The course is delivered in Hindi.

Each course is 42 days (6 weeks) in duration with 15 periods per day or 600 over the whole course. One source states 35 days and another 5 1/2 weeks (ITBP Academy, 2013).

The course is designed to develop three basic elements of confidence, endurance and tactics, and this is achieved by placing candidates under the maximum physical (and partially mental) strain, as well as copious amounts of sleep deprivation. Candidates will enjoy a variety of training with highlights including: jumping from high walls; walking on narrow platforms and beams; slithering from helicopters; endurance runs (10 km to 40 km) carrying complete battle load and personal weapons; battle obstacle courses; rock-climbing; rappelling, combat firing; survival missions; and lectures and demonstrations.

When candidates arrive, they are picked up and transported directly to the camp where they will stay for the entire length of the course (except for two three-hour breaks in the third and fourth weeks). Once on course, all signs of rank are removed and, both officers and NCOs, will answer to ‘Commando’ and have their heads shaved.

Candidates will also receive a toggle rope, safety rope, four text books/précis, a demolition card (a table for calculating the amount of explosive material for different structures) and three paplus of different weights.

Day one of the course starts with a Battle Proficiency Efficiency Test (BPET) which consists of:

  • A 5-km run carrying 3.5 kg and a rifle;
  • Climbing a vertical rope and traversing a horizontal rope;
  • Jumping fire ditches carrying 3.5 kg;
  • 60 metres sprint; and
  • Swimming in combat dress.

During the six weeks of training, candidates will undergo a progressive, but intense training programme. Training includes:

  • Battle Obstacle Course (BOC):
    • 22 obstacles carrying 3.5 kg and 4 kg personal weapon in less than 18 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • Endurance speed marches (carrying 17.5 kg weight and 4 kg personal weapon):
    • 10 km (6.4 mile) distance (week 2).
    • 20 km (12.4 mile) distance (week 3).
    • 30 km (18.6 mile) distance (week 4).
    • 40 km (24.8 mile) distance in a time of 6 hours and 10 minutes (week 6).
  • Confidence-building exercises:
    • Lido Jump: Walk on a wooden plank 24 inches wide and 40 feet long, 50 feet above a water tank and negotiate two flights of stairs. The candidate then gets on the horizontal rope at a height of 55 feet and monkey crawls a distance of 10 feet. After that they must hang with both hands, stabilise their body and jump into the water below at the crack of a rifle. This exercise is designed to help overcome vertigo and develop self confidence in candidates.
    • Slide down a 50-foot platform keeping the body rigid.
  • Unarmed combat: teaching of martial art techniques against an armed and unarmed opponent.
  • Rock climbing, both basic and specialised techniques.
  • Tactical training and combat shooting: ambidextrous firing (using both hands and shoulders), firing on the move, peripheral vision firing and cover fire techniques.
  • Engineering and demolitions.
  • First aid.
  • Land navigation, both day and night.
  • Survival techniques: build shelters; procure potable water; make fires; navigate; make traps and snares; and track and obtain food from flora and fauna.

Training is driven by technology, the Commando Wing has upgraded its curriculum to reckon with the best in the world, even throwing some surprises to visiting foreign military personnel. The use of paint ball guns, gen-next rock climbing gadgets, remote controlled targets and cameras for room intervention are some of the training gadgets being used. Remote controlled IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) developed by the Wing for training is based on experience gained by its instructors through on-the-job operations.

5.4     Graduation

Information on the pass rate (attrition rate) is currently unavailable.

6.0     Training Establishments

There are several training establishments involved in the delivery of training to candidates during their Ghatak training. Some of these training establishments are outlined below.

6.1     Army Training Command

Established in 1991, the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) is located at Shimla and is commanded by the General Officer Commander-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) ARTRAC, a Lieutenant General (OF-8) (Indian Army, 2017c).

ARTRAC has responsibility for the various Army training establishments which are divided into two categories:

  • Category A commanded by a Lieutenant General (OF-8) or Major General (OF-7); and
  • Category B commanded by a Major General (OF-7) or Brigadier (OF-6).

6.2     Commando Wing, Infantry School

The Junior Leaders’ Commando Course is delivered by the Commando Wing, located at Belgaum in Karnataka, and is part of the Junior Leader’s Wing (JLW). JLW is part of the Indian Army’s Infantry School at Mhow and headed by a Major General (OF-7).

The Commando Wing is headed by a Colonel (OF-5) who is assisted by the Chief Instructor, a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). The Head of the Training Team is a Major (OF-3).

The Commando Wing was originally located in Mhow, in 1964, but moved to its current location in 1971. The

The Commando Wing delivers training to Indian Army officers and NCOs, as well as Indian paramilitary forces and occasionally international military personnel.

6.3     High-Altitude Warfare School

High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), Indian Army.

Candidates will attend the 4-week High Altitude Commando Course at the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), along with other Indian SF units.

HAWS is also known as the High-Altitude Commando School and the Parvat Ghatak School (Gokhale, 2006). Gokhale (2006) states that the school is located at Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh (a North-eastern region of India), however, a decade later Hooda (2016) states the school is now operating from three locations in the Kashmir (North-western) region of India.

Operating from three different locations in Kashmir, the HAWS conducts (Hooda, 2016):

  • Winter warfare course at HAWS Gulmarg which is situated close 9,000 feet above sea level and is where military personnel learn to survive and fight in the world’s highest battleground at 20,000 feet. The first week of training entails a march of 1.5 km with a small load, but quickly progresses from 5, 10 and 15 kg after two weeks to traversing on skis carrying 15 kg and a weapon in hand. Students must complete a one-week exercise, with 72 hours with nothing but the survival skills they have learnt. The course is delivered between January and April each year and has an attrition rate of 30% to 40%.
  • Mountain warfare course at HAWS Sonamarg, delivered between May and October each year.
  • Ice craft at HAWS Machoi across Zojila.

7.0     Miscellaneous

7.1     Useful Links

7.2     Useful Publications

7.3     References

Bedi, R. (2015) India’s Special Forces Face an Identity Crisis. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/1/4067/INDIAS-SPECIAL-FORCES-FACE-AN-IDENTITY-CRISIS. [Accessed: 30 January, 2017].

Gokhale, N.A. (2000) High-Altitude Warfare School. Available from World Wide Web: http://bharat-rakshak.com/ARMY/units/89-HAWS.html. [Accessed: 30 January, 2017].

Hooda, D. (2016) High Altitude Warfare School: Where Indian Jawans are Trained to Survive in Siachen. Available from World Wide Web: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/high-altitude-warfare-school-where-indian-jawans-are-trained-to-survive-in-siachen/articleshow/50968653.cms. [Accessed: 30 January, 2017].

ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) Academy (2013) Joining Instructions for Army Course Run at ITBP Academy. Available from World Wide Web: http://itbpacademy.nic.in/army_courses.html. [Accessed: 13 February, 2017].

Rehman, I. (2015) Rehman on India’s Special Forces. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/news/in-the-news/rehman-on-india-s-special-forces. [Accessed: 26 January, 2017].