India’s Black Cats: Omnipresent security of the highest level | Daily News

India’s Black Cats: Omnipresent security of the highest level

Armed and ready
Armed and ready

Attired in full black, their faces concealed by a black balaclava, the counterterrorism commandos of India are a band of tough men. Renowned for their courage and the concept of aiming for “headshots” has propelled them to be one of the best commando forces in the world.

Officially known as the National Security Guard (NSG), they are feared as the Black Cats. The NSG is an elite counterterrorism unit under the Indian Home Affairs Ministry. It was founded on September 22, 1986, under the National Security Guard Act of 1986, following Operation Blue Star, the Golden Temple attack and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which created a sensitive political situation in India. The NSG remains fully trained and ready for combating terrorist activities and protecting Indian states against internal disturbances. Its motto in Sanskrit is Sarvatra-Sarvottam- Suraksha meaning omnipresent security.

Though most of its members are from the Indian Army, there are police officers who also make up the Black Cats. Given its significant mandate, the Force remains a part of the Central Armed Police Forces. As a specialised counterterrorism force which is able to deliver surgical strikes, it is intended to be used in exceptional situations. Within its spectrum of counterterrorism duties, the NSG began to provide close protection to selected VIPs. The formidable commandos are trained to conduct counterterrorist tasks, including countering hijackings on the land, sea, and air; bomb disposal (search, detection, and neutralisation of IEDs), PBI (Post Blast Investigation) and Hostage Rescue missions.

Aspiring trainees are vetted out and selected carefully. Selection is demanding and has a dropout rate of about 70 percent which shows that those who wear the black uniform are the very best. Three of their 14 months of training in Manesar, Haryana, are devoted to the basics. Physical fitness training has 26 elements, ranging from a cross-country obstacle course to jumping from heights and across divides and scaling different kinds of terrain. One endurance test involves martial arts, target shooting at the end of an obstacle-ridden cross-country run. The Black Cats are taught mixed martial arts (MMA), Pekiti -Tirsia- Kali (PTK is a Filipino blade cutting art) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

During the initial weeks of training, candidates are sleep deprived - allowed to sleep for only three hours. This is meant to gauge the candidate’s performance under the conditions of stress and exhaustion. Those who successfully complete the tests are sent for nine months of advanced training. Before being inducted into the NSG, aspirants also have to undergo a rigorous psychological test. The training includes learning to conduct urban counterterrorism, underwater operations, house intervention, counter-UAV and anti-drone operations, bomb detection and disposal skills, apart from other specialisations. In February 2018, American Green Berets from the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne) conducted a joint training exercise with the NSG in Kolkata. The Green Berets learnt some urban warfare strategies from the NSG.

Every victorious journey begins with turbulent challenges. Records describe the National Security Guard was established in the wake of the 1984 Operation Blue Star, and the high collateral damage to the Golden Temple, amidst civilian and military casualties. Since its founding, the NSG has been used in Punjab in 1986, and Jammu and Kashmir. The Operation Blue Star was the code name of an Indian military action which was prudently planned and carried out between June 1 and 10, 1984, in order to remove the Sikh Damdami Taksal leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the buildings of Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab.

Again, during April 29–30, 1986, about 300 Black Cat commandos and 700 Border Security Force (BSF) troops stormed the Golden Temple in the now-famous Operation Black Thunder I. The temple was cleared and handed over to the Punjab Police on May 1, 1986. It is believed that 300 Sikh militants were captured, and there were no deaths or injuries for either side. The NSG was called up again on November 26, 2008, as the world became aware of the Mumbai attacks. Operation Black Tornado and Operation Cyclone were launched to flush out terrorists and rescue hostages after multiple attacks across Mumbai. Over 900 hotel rooms were scanned, eight terrorists were killed and over 600 hostages including many foreign guests were rescued during the operation.

Special Action Group (SAG)

For operational purposes, the NSG is structured to represent special branches. There are two Special Action Groups – 51 and 52 SAGs. Both, along with 11 Special Ranger Group (SRG), constitute the counterterrorist arm of the NSG. 51 SAG along with 11 SRG are tasked with counterterrorism and counter-insurgency operations while 52 SAG deal with anti-hijacking operations.

Special Ranger Group (SRG)

There are three Special Ranger Groups (SRG) – 11, 12 and 13. The 11 SRG is only used for counterterrorism operations along with 51 SAG. The 12 and 13 SRG provide close protection and special security service for India’s high-profile targets. SRG members are drawn both from the border guarding forces such as BSF, ITBP and SSB and Internal Security Forces such as CRPF, CISF and Assam Rifles. It is said that in recent times, the Indian Government has decided to remove SRGs from close protection duties and reassigned them exclusively for the original mandate of the NSG.

Special Composite Group (SCG)

The NSG has set five regional hubs under regional deployment. The SCG consists of personnel both from Army and Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) for counterterror operations within their area of responsibility.

The Black Cats wield an impressive arsenal of weapons. The Indian commandos use the Austrian Glock 17 pistol, SG551 assault rifle, Berretta 70/90 assault rifle, M249 light machine gun, Heckler and Koch MSG 90 Sniper rifle, the advanced Heckler and Koch PSG A1 Sniper rifle, Tavor X95 assault rifle, Heckler and Koch MP-5 submachine gun and Glock knives. For a person who is training to become a Black Cat, he must have a minimum target striking rate of 85 percent. This level of excellence is achieved as each Black Cat fires 14,000 rounds during 60 days of training.

During live firing, aspiring members must stand next to a target, as another commando aims and fires at the target. This tensile training gives the shooter confidence, responsibility and accuracy.

In order to breach a building, they drive the Ford F550 ladder truck and also use the Renault Sherpa Armoured Vehicle. As their missions require the NSG teams have access to helicopters and planes of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Over the years, dogs (mainly Belgian Malinois breed) have been inducted into the service with the NSG. They can detect concealed explosives. Also, dogs are now trained to wear a headset that has a live camera, which enables the troop commander to see real-time images once the dog is sent forward. The NSG has successfully tested a new system for “off-leash” dog duties. The dog wears a digital gadget and will obey voice commands from its handler who is far away. Innovation has paved the way for the Black Cats to use a UAV that can drop two 38mm grenades during flight. They also have access to the modern Dogo Robot which travels on track wheels. This robot is fitted with and fires a Glock pistol. The Indian NSG has come a long way as a counterterrorism force. In all its missions, speed, stealth, surprise and precision are its hallmark.

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