Sunday, November 30, 2008

MARCOS- Marine Commandos

The Marine Commando Force (MCF) is a special forces unit, that was created by the Indian Navy in 1987. For many years, the Indian Navy wanted to establish an elite force for special maritime operations. Prior to this, Navy divers trained in explosive ordnance disposal and Army units were often assigned for maritime exercises. In 1983, the 340th Army Independent Brigade, which had a force of three infantry battalions at Trivandrum, was raised as a special maritime unit. They were assault operations in which both airborne and maritime forces participated. Since then, the Indian Navy has conducted various exercises as a show of force, notably in 1984 in the Andaman Islands and in 1986 off Goa.

Image © India Today QRS (Quick Reaction Section) operators fast rope from a Sea King Mk.42C helicopter during a GOPLAT (Gas and Oil Platform) assault drill. Weapons include 7.62mm AK-47 assault rifles and 9mm MP-5 sub-machine guns.

In April 1986, the Indian Naval Staff created a plan for a special force which would be able to conduct recon, raids and even counter-terrorist operations in a maritime environment. Three Naval Officers were sent for training with the US Navy SEALS and further training was conducted with British Special Forces. These three Naval Officers formed the first nucleus of the Indian Marine Special Force (IMSF) which was formally raised in February 1987. In 1991, the IMSF had its name changed to the Marine Commando Force (MCF), but they are more familiarly known as MARCOS (Marine Commandos).


The IMSF first went into action a few months after its raising, in Sri Lanka, to fight against the LTTE (Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelan). During Operation Pawan, a single battalion of the 340th Army Independent Brigade left the Naval base of Vizag for Jaffna and Batticaloa on board landing ships, together with a detachment of the IMSF which was to provide the beach reconnaissance party. As one of the first IPKF units to be deployed, the 340th Brigade served until operations in the Tricomalee area were complete. Beside leading the beach landings, the IMSF also provided security patrols along the coastal road, west of Jaffna, until the Army's 41st Brigade was able to take charge. On 21 October 1987, a Indian Navy force conducted a successful amphibious raid against a LTTE base at Guru Nagar.

Image © India Today

A MARCOS operator descends from a a Sea King Mk.42C helicopter to a Gemini raiding craft by means of a caving ladder.

Then in November 1988, mercenaries of the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelan (PLOTE), a party used by the India to counter the LTTE, attempted a coup in the Maldives. The Indian Armed Forces quickly began an operation to re-establish the former government. Under the codename Operation Cactus, Indian paratroopers on 04 November 1988, swarmed on the capital. However 46 mercenaries with 27 hostages, including the Maldivian Minister of Education, managed to escape on board a merchant ship. The next day the merchant ship was detected by an Il-38 May MR aircraft and was then tracked by a Tu-142M Bear-F, another maritime recon aircraft, until two Indian Navy vessels were able to capture the absconding ship. Two Sea King Mk.42 helicopters, from the one of the naval vessels, dropped depth charges to deter evasion. Finally on the morning of 06 November 1988, IMSF commandos boarded the vessel and took control without any resistance from the mercenaries.

MARCOS is currently very active in Jammu & Kashmir as part of the army's counter-terrorist efforts. Their main task is to control the infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan to Jammu & Kashmir through Jhelum River and Wullar, a 65 sq. km freshwater lake. Clad in wet suits or BDUs and riding on inflatable raiding craft, they interdict arms supplies and fresh militants who are crossing over. Some MARCOS personnel have been seconded to Army special forces units conducting CT operations in the area. They operate similar to the Israeli Mistaravim units by sporting beards and wearing the firan (Kashmiri suit), thus making them indistinguishable from the locals. The unit has gained a fearsome reputation among nervous terrorists and are variously referred to as the Dadiwali Fauj (Bearded Army) since MARCOS are the only non-Sikh personnel allowed to grow them, Jal Murgi (Water Hens) for the speed in which they assault from the water and Magarmach (Crocodiles) for their amphibious capability.


MARCOS trainees have to complete a two-year course, the first phase of which lasts one month, in which they undergo many rigorous physical tests of which only 50% pass. Then for the next nine months, they are taught how to use different types of weapons, conduct special warfare techniques and how to gather intelligence from the enemy. MARCOS also conducts operational reconnaissance training which includes a variety of external environments; beach, coastal, riverine and jungle. This part of training is conducted in sync with other Indian special forces at the Combined Commando School at Sirsawa. They also have to undergo a parachute training course and a diving course at Agra and Cochin.

Image © India Today

A MARCOS operator armed with an MP-5, grenades and crossbow. The crossbow was used for sentry elimination and silent killing with cyanide tipped arrows and has been replaced by less cumbersome silenced pistols. Note the trademark beard - the Indian Navy is the only branch of the military that permits beards for non-Sikh members.

Once trainees have completed their first nine months of these rigorous tests, they join groups - on a probational basis - where additional specialized training is carried out. This combat ready qualification takes another year. Most of the training deals with counter-terrorist operations, such as protecting oil platforms off Mumbai and also with anti-hijacking/piracy operations. All MARCOS personnel are static line parachute qualified and a number are freefall qualified (HALO/HAHO). MARCOS is one of only a handful of units in the world that is capable of para-dropping into the sea with full combat load and equipment. By the end of two years, only 10% - 25% of the candidates remain. As with other Indian Special Forces units, all MCF personnel attend the four week high-altitude commando course run by the Parvat Ghatak School in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh.


The strength of the unit is a closely guarded secret, however sources say that the number could be close to 2000 personnel, in 10 groups of 200 personnel each. Currently there are three main groups detached to the three naval commands; Mumbai (West), Cochin (South) and Vizag (East). INS Abhimanyu, in Mumbai, is where most of the specialised training is now done. The unit's quick rise has changed the unit's role - it was intended to be dedicated to special maritime operations, but a considerable part of the MARCOS is doubling as marine infantry, assigned to the 340th Brigade, with the usual flexibility of commando forces.

Image © India Today

QRS operators assault a hijacked bus during CT/HRT (Counter Terror/Hostage Rescue Team) drills. The handgun is a 9mm Browning Hi Power.

That means that they have the capability of conducting swift amphibious raids and co-operating with Indian airborne units, in joint assault operations. Each of the three main groups have smaller units within them known as the Quick Reaction Section (QRS), which is the size of a large platoon. They are given the task of counter-terrorism and specialized warfare. Unlike standard MARCOS units, which are armed with weapons like the 7.62mm assault rifle and the Sterling Mk.4 sub-machine gun, the QRS use AK-47 assault rifles and MP-5 sub-machine guns which are more suited to close-quarter engagements. Silenced pistols or crossbows with cyanide tipped, fibreglass arrows are used extensively for silent killing.

MARCOS training is far more rigorous, better than any standard Indian Army unit and even better than their Western counterparts, who are only given the task of amphibious assault. Although all MARCOS members are qualified parachutists and even undergo a combat divers course (which is not a common practice in other commando forces), only a few manage to complete the free-fall (HALO) parachute training and it is these few that are selected for operations with Cosmos CE-2F/X100 two-man subs. When the unit's role was expanded to include attacks on harbour facilities and the sabotage of enemy ships, the Indian Navy chose the Italian Cosmos CE-2F/X100 and eleven vehicles were bought in 1990. It has a length of 7 meters, a weight of 2100kg, and a maximum underwater combat range of 25 nautical miles. It carries two operators and is fitted with a forward compartment for carrying special equipment like heavy explosive charges or limpet anti-ship mines.

For the amphibious assault role, the Indian Navy relies on a small fleet based at Vizag. Two new 5600+ ton landing vessels of the Magar Class offer a good transport capability, thanks to the four Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVP) on davits, the beaching capability and a stern helicopter platform with hangar. Although locally built, the Indian Navy's original plan for eight of the class seem to have been shelved because of budgetary constraints. Eight smaller landing ships of the Polnochny Class are scarcely operational for lack of spare parts; they are 10 to 20 years old. The last four vessels support a small helicopter platform. Seven 500-ton landing craft utility (LCU), locally built between 1978-1987, are also in service.

Image © India Today

MARCOS operators undergoing CQB (Close Quarter Battle) training with MP-5 sub-machine guns.

The Indian Navy also shows great interest in air-cushion craft and a few are on order for fast, short-range assault operations. Although most of the naval inventory is of Russian origin and the Russians are the largest operator of air-cushion craft, the new hovercrafts are being procured in the West. The MARCOS is supported also by six Sea King Mk.42C and a few HAL Chetak helicopters. Because of the lack of midget submarines, whose delivery was denied by the Italian authorities, the Cosmos are transported close to the target on the back of parent submarines, most probably on Foxtrot Class submarines. The CE-2F/X100 can withstand a transit depth of 100 metres. Also surface ships like, surface combatants or naval auxiliaries, can be used for delivering these crafts, although with less discretion.


The presence of a significant marine component within the Indian Navy fits very well with the declared intention of expanding the role of the fleet to establish a credible blue-water intervention force. An effective, yet dimensionally limited, capability of power projection is clearly available already and is coupled with a reasonable capability to conduct covert operations and specialized warfare. The armed forces have demonstrated an amazing quick-reaction capability and the willingness to establish an area of exclusive interest well beyond India's borders. That makes the Marine Commando Force (MCF) a flexible force for facing peace-time contingencies and making effective the intentions expressed by India's policymakers.

A partial list of previous MARCOS Operations;
{ Source: Counter Terrorism & Hostage Rescue }

October 1988, Operation Pawan: The IMSF saw action in SriLanka as part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) during Operation Pawan in 1987. The unit was attached to the 340th Independent Brigade whose task was amphibious missions. The IMSF provided beach reconnaissance for the amphibious landing. It also provided security patrols along the costal road west of Jaffna. On 21 October 1988, the IMSF conducted a successful raid against a coastal LTTE base. The IMSF also helped capture the Jaffna and Trincomalee harbors from the LTTE.

November 1988, Operation Cactus: The IMSF took part in Operation Cactus in which Indian troops thwarted a coup attempt in the islands of Maldives. When the islands were liberated, a ship containing 46 mercenaries and 27 hostages (including the Maldivian Education Minister) escaped. The next day the ship was spotted by Indian maritime reconnaissance aircraft. IMSF operators fast-roped on the ship from helicopters and took control without any resistance.

Ongoing: The MCF has also been very active in Kashmir as part of Counter-Terrorist efforts. Their main task is to control the infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan to Kashmir through Jhelum River and Wullar, a 65 sq. km freshwater lake. Clad in wet suits or BDUs and riding on inflatable raiding craft, they interdict arms supplies and fresh militants who are crossing over. Some MCF personnel have been seconded to army special forces units conducting CT operations in the area. MCF operators also operate similar to Israeli Mistaravim units by sporting beards and local dress, making them indistinguishable from the locals.

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