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Man of war
For the last 18 years, honorary Major Deepak Rao has made it his life's aim to study and modernise the art of close-quarter battle. TOI-Crest spoke to the man who has trained thousands of Indian commandos
In September last year, when the Army conferred honorary Territorial Army ranks on MS Dhoni and Abhinav Bindra, another slightly lesser-known person also stood beside them. His contribution to the armed forces, however, is equally significant.
Deepak Rao, physician, scientist, winner of the World Peace Award in 2008, and author, has written a number of books on unarmed combat and counter-terrorism, copies of which have been distributed in their thousands to the country's soldiers. The books have also been studied by the FBI, Interpol and various foreign police forces. But more importantly, Major Rao - the Army made him an honorary major - has pioneered the art of modern closequarter battle and passed on that knowledge to thousands of Indian special forces soldiers.
You have been training soldiers for over 18 years? How has the training regimen changed over the years, especially in today's world of urban conflict?
Today's world of urban conflict is mostly about close-quarter battle (CQB). CQB involves engagement of the enemy with small (quick response) teams armed with shortrange weapons. In a scenario of urban terrorism, battles may be fought in built-up public areas, malls, movie theatres, parks, schools etc. This is different from conventional long-distance warfare for here small teams are involved in fighting a handful of well-equipped terrorists, perhaps with civilians or hostages between them. World War II training did not include modern-day CQB preparation. Hence, all over the world, CQB training has become a specialty subject. Today's CQB training includes:
Essentials of commando training - physical training, obstacle courses, navigation, sentry termination etc
Small-team combat training, with its own standard operating procedures (SOPs) of tactics, movement and function
Reflex shooting, which demands quick shooting on sighting the enemy at close quarters, before he fires
Room combat and intervention protocols to prevent ricochets of concrete walls and collateral damage
Unarmed combat, defence against firearms/daggers, bullet evasion, grenade grappling etc
How is your Advanced Commando Combat System (ACCS) of close-quarter battle different from conventional WW II CQB training?
ACCS is modern CQB training, as designed by us. Over the last two decades, I have trained thousands of soldiers in modern CQB and in the process, researched and reinvented conventional methodology left behind by the British. ACCS methods prescribe more practical ways of close-quarter shooting, team protocols, room combat as well as unarmed combat and termination methods.
One of the major contributions has been our reflex shooting method which advocates quick reaction to the sighted enemy versus the precision fire of snap shooting, ie shooting a rifle quickly and without taking deliberate aim with the sights. ACCS advocates shoot first and hit any part of the enemy target before he gets you. This is accomplished with the use of foresight rather than the time-consuming use of foresight and hindsight at close quarters. The method has been found to reduce reaction time from four seconds (WW II snap shooting) to one second (ACCS).
How would you rate Indian special forces like the NSG, para-commandos or MARCOS in comparison to the US Navy SEALS, British SAS or the Delta Force?
Special forces (SF) commandos are highlytrained specialist soldiers who function like force multipliers and work in hostile terrain against a number of odds. It is said that it takes more time and effort to train a special forces commando than to train a fighter pilot. Essentially, these forces are higher on skill as compared to regular forces and also exercise more liberty in operational decisions.
Our Indian special forces like the Army para-commandos, Naval MARCOS, Air force GARUDS, NSG Black Cats are all highly trained and competitive. The Army para SF are the most elite among our 13 lakh soldiers and are capable of operating in jungles, at high altitudes, deserts and hostile terrain behind enemy lines. The Indian soldier may be lesser equipped in arsenal than his western counterpart but is better trained in close-quarter battle. I feel we Indians differ from western soldiers in one aspect - we can die for our country. Our SF motto is not "Who dares wins" but "Balidan" or "Sacrifice!"
In my opinion, the public awe value of western special forces is gathered from the movies. They too have their faults and have had their failures. Like on Sept 26, 2010, when US SEALS were involved in the rescue of Scottish aid worker Linda Norgrove held hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the rescue SF team threw a grenade and killed the hostage, messing up the operation.
We have seen a number of fragging incidents in the armed and para-military forces? How can these be stopped? How can a soldier tackle the sapped morale that extended insurgency operations usually cause?
Increasing frustration, depression and repression of emotions in the uniformed personnel may give rise to extreme, unpredictable and violent acts. This mental state may be a result of spending many months in inhospitable terrain with unpleasant weather - like on a glacier. With the imminent threat of the extinction of his life, the soldier's mind is stretched to limit where all rationality may be lost. In such a state of mind, the soldier may react in an extreme manner to inter-personal issues or issues with his superior command.
The only way to reduce such incidents is to ensure adequate leave and balance hightension duties with periods of low-tension work. By providing more benefits and facilities, the morale of the soldiers can be boosted. At a personal level, soldiers must be encouraged to give vent to their feelings by expressing their fears, needs, and stresses to their superiors or at least to their colleagues.
Do you think our soldiers have the right weapons and equipment? Do you have a wishlist for the Indian army soldier?
The basic weapons for a successful CQB operation are MP5 carbines, telescopic sights and laser pointing devices, stun and fragmentation grenades, bullet proof jackets and night vision devices.
Of course, we have many appropriate weapons for close-quarter engagement. Also, our special forces are procuring enhanced weapon systems every year. But one must understand that in today's scenario of urban combat and CI ops, weapons matter less and skill matters more. Weapons make a big difference only in long-distance war and military operations. However in close-quarter engagements, what matters is small-team tactics and weapon skills. It does not matter which weapon is used but who shoots first!
My wishlist for the Indian army soldier is more facilities, more leave, and more public empathy. All soldiers spend the prime of their lives on glaciers, in jungles and deserts, braving the terrain, the weather and befriending the proximity of death.
The beheading incident along the LoC recently was reportedly carried out by Pakistani SSG commandos? How would you rate that unit? What do you think should have been our correct response?
The job of a commando is to execute a daredevil mission with a small team engaging a large enemy force. It is not to behead an enemy soldier and mutilate his body. Well, the guilty unit can be rated to be without scruples. India has exercised wise restraint and the government has reacted within the prescribed policies of the land.
The Indian army has recently been given the go-ahead to acquire attack helicopters? How will this affect counter-insurgency operations?
Helicopters enable quick and timely insertion of special forces into an area of operation. Attack helicopters have superior weaponry which gives a distinct advantage to counterinsurgency operations and provides support to ground ops. In combat, an attack helicopter is projected to destroy around 17 times its own production cost before it is destroyed.
You haven't charged a single penny from the armed forces for all these years of training? What motivates you?
I always wanted to do something for my country's armed forces. And yes, I did not feel like accepting monetary compensation from the very people who give me my security and maintain my freedom.
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