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NATIONAL SECURITY GUARDS

Special thanks to Counter Terror & Hostage Rescue and India Today

Insignia of the National Security Guards

"It goes, strikes, achieves and quietly comes back, just like the mythological chakra which would behead the demons and return to the finger of Lord Krishna." Nikhil Kumar, Former Director General of the National Security Guards.

The National Security Guards (NSG) was raised by the Cabinet Secretariat under the National Security Guard Act of 1985 and has acquired considerable experience from the intense insurgency operations it has faced - from the present conflict in the state of Kashmir to the cradle of its birth, the state of Punjab. Adopting a variety of roles from counter-terrorism to hostage rescue to VIP protection, the NSG proudly wears the mantle of being one of the finest counter-terrorist units in all of Asia. Their goals include;

  • Neutralisation of specific terrorist threats in vital installations or any given area
  • Handling hijack situations involving piracy in the air and on the land.
  • Engaging and neutralising terrorists in specific situations.
  • Rescue of hostages in kidnap situations.

But being one of the finest counter-terrorist units in all of Asia, does not come without a price. The NSG simulates hundreds of realistic scenarios in daily drills - the key being fitness and surprise. "Surprise doesn't mean that the terrorists don't know we are coming. It is just that we have chosen the when, how and where. And it is with our chosen technique and weapon," says Colonel V.K. Dutta, who has been associated with the NSG since its inception. The unit is popularly known as the Black Cats, because of the black nomex coveralls and balaclavas (head gear) or assault helmets they adorn. Their motto is - One for All, All for One.

A NSG Commando dressed to kill.

A 'Black Cat' Commando armed with an MP-5 sub-machine gun.

With a total strength of approximately 7500 personnel, the NSG is divided into two groups - the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Special Rangers Group (SRG). The SAG, which comprises 54% of the force, is the elite, offensive wing with members drawn from the Indian Army. The SRG, on the other hand, has members on deputation from central police organisations like the Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Rapid Action Force (RAF). The primary function of the SRG is to play a supportive role to the SAF, especially in isolating target areas. For maintaining the young profile of the force, troops are rotated and sent back to their parent organisations after serving in the NSG for three to five years. The basic training period at the organisation's training centre at Manesar, 50 km from New Delhi, lasts 90 days. Only those who complete the entire course successfully are inducted into the NSG and given further specialised training.

The probation grind saps the toughest of recruits and the drop out rate is 50 - 70%. For starters there is a 26-item, 780-metre obstacle course, with a qualifying time of 18 minutes. If a person completes the course in 25 minutes, he is deemed fit. The best do it in less than nine minutes. The obstacles have to do with heights, horizontal gaps and vertical scaling and are difficult to tackle in sequence. As if this is not enough, there's a target shooting session at the end of the obstacle course meant to test the aspirants' performance under severe stress and exhaustion. Those who complete this course are recruited to the unit and sent for advanced training. Some operators are sent to Israel for advanced training. Though it is not known exactly what training they receive, it could probably be the CT/HRT course with Unit 707. The unit also cooperates with Israel's Shabach, for training in VIP protection.

One of the hurdles in a 26-item, 780 meter obstacle course. The qualifying time is 18 minutes but experienced operators take around 9 minutes.

In the Combat Room Shoot, the combatant enters a dark room, adjusts to the darkness and engages the target with either a torch light or a compatible laser image intensifier - all within 3 seconds. And not just in darkness but under the strobe lights of a discotheque as well, which are some of the most difficult shots to take. "We train them to take only head shots. And two at a go - the double tap system. It's to ensure neutralisation of the target. In the close hostage-terrorist situations we face there is little scope for body shots," says Colonel Dutta. To hone shooting skills the training centre has an Electronic Combat Shooting Range built at a cost of over Rs.1 crore. Divided into 11 zones and spread over 400 metres, a recruit has to cover this distance in just six minutes, 30 seconds and fire at 29 targets along the way.

The target exposure time is between two and three seconds and the targets are of all kinds - vertically rising, popping out, moving and rotating. The faster a person engages the target the more points he scores. It is not just non-reactive targets that they practice against. In twin room shooting, rival combatants enter contiguous rooms and watch each other's movements on a screen. They are supposed to neutralise each other by shooting at the screen. The exercise test the combatants' response time and accuracy under near-field conditions. The men are also put through a battle inoculation program where they have to stand right next to the target while one of their partners shoots at it. "They have to become used to live bullets flying under their noses.

Also the person shooting is conscious that if he misses by even a couple of inches the bullet is going to hit his partner." says an instructor. They don't wear the kavach either, a bullet-proof vest, designed by Colonel Dutta himself. The vest can withstand an AK-47 or a 7.62mm carbine shot at point blank range. Members of the unit are assigned partners soon after completion of basic training and they train and even go on leave together. But as crack professionals, they are under orders to shoot their partner if he makes a single threatening step detrimental to the security of a VIP. On an average, a commando fires 2000 rounds of live ammunition during practice sessions throughout the year. This is apart from the two months that units have to spend in alert status and for whom it's a daily stint at the range. "I did more firing in a week of alert status than in my entire 10-year stay in the Army," says an NSG Officer. On average a person fires close to 14,000 rounds over a period of two months in alert status. The target strike rate has to be above 85% for a person to remain in the force.

NSG operators practising fast-reaction shooting from difficult angles at targets that pop up for split seconds to achieve absolute accuracy.

Some NSG personnel have received additional training in Israel and use weapons like the famed 9mm Uzi sub-machine gun. Their weapon of choice, however, is the Heckler & Koch family of 9mm sub-machine guns, the 7.62mm PSG-1 sniper weapon and the Heckler & Koch 512 12-gauge shotgun. Side arms include Glock 17 and Sig Sauer P226 9mm pistols. They are also armed with state-of-the-art surveillance gadgets and other sophisticated equipment. The unit is also parachute-trained, but is uncertain whether this capability includes free-fall (HALO/HAHO) and static-line or just the latter. The unit also has a superb bomb disposal squad.

The smallest combat unit in the NSG's counter-terrorist ops is a hit which comprises of five members - two pairs, or partners and a technical support member. Four hits make a team which is under the command of a Captain. The number of hits used for an intervention job depends on its complexity and the magnitude of the operation. In hostage rescue situations, a team of 50 to 90 NSG personnel and an IL-76MD strategic transport aircraft to transport them, are stationed on alert at New Delhi's Palam AFS and are ready to deploy within 30 minutes of being informed.

The NSG is an elite force providing a second line of defence to the nation. They have played a pivotal role in safeguarding the unity of India and have commendably foiled attempts of anti-national elements to tear apart the social fabric of the country. The NSG has maintained an edge over terrorist outfits in possession of latest technology and are considered among the finest special operations units in all of South Asia. However, as Colonel Dutta says, "We are like nukes. The ultimate back-up."

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

30 April 1986: NSG commandos storm the Golden Temple in Operation Black Thunder I. No casualties on either side and no weapons are found.

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A NSG Sniper armed with a H&K PSG-1 rifle.

  • 12 May 1988: 1000 NSG commandos surround the Golden Temple for yet an other assault in Operation Black Thunder II. Sniper teams armed with Heckler & Koch PSG-1 rifles with night scope took up positions, including atop a 300-foot water tower. While commandos from the 51 SAG divided into assault squadrons, the SRG were used to seal off the area around the temple and for tactical support. On May 15th, the NSG began its attack. Machine gun fire and rockets were used to cut holes in the temple's minarets, followed by teargas canisters. Once it was determined that the towers had been abandoned, the SAG used explosives to break holes into the temple basement. By May 18th, all militants had surrendered at the cost of only two wounded Black Cats. In mid-1990 an NSG battalion was again deployed to Punjab to confront the Sikh rioters. There they began training the Punjab Police in counter-terrorism.
  • 24-25 April 1994: NSG Commandos storm a hijacked Indian Airlines Boeing 737 with 141 passengers onboard at Amritsar airport during Operation Ashwamedh. The hijacker, Mohammed Yousuf Shah, is killed before he can react and no hostages are harmed.
  • October 1998: As part of the implementation of the Union Home Ministry's decision to conduct pro-active strikes against militants, commando teams supported by IAF Mi-25/35 helicopter gun-ships began striking at terrorist groups deep inside the mountains and forests of Kashmir. After helicopter recces were conducted to pinpoint the militants, the commandos - comprising NSG and Rashtriya Rifles personnel - were para-dropped, along with supplies, into the area to hunt the militants. They had to rely on these supplies and their ability to live off the land until replenishment every fortnight or so. The operations were said to be highly successful although precise details are not being released in order to maintain a low profile. These missions are reportedly still ongoing.

NSG operators fast-rope on to the roof of a building from a Mi-17 transport helicopter, of the Indian Air Force, during a HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) drill.

  • 15 July 1999: NSG commandos end a 30-hour standoff by killing 2 terrorists and rescuing all 12 hostages unharmed. The terrorists had attacked a BSF campus, killed 3 officers and the wife of an other. The 12 hostages were kept locked in a room. The NSG arrived the previous evening and positioned themselves around the apartment complex. At one point two militants tried to crawl out and one was shot dead. The other managed to crawl back. Finally at around 5:00 in the morning the NSG assaulted the apartment. The terrorists managed to move to another room, allowing the NSG to release all 12 hostages. At around 8:00 a.m., a 84mm rocket was fired into the roof of the room, collapsing it and killing one militant.
  • 21 August 1999: After interrogating three captured terrorists, the Delhi Police Crime branch confirmed that two more terrorists were hiding in a one-storied house in Rudrapur, Uttar Pradesh. Since the terrorists were considered armed and dangerous (their colleagues were arrested with 100+ pounds of RDX), the Delhi Police decided to seek assistance from the NSG. A 16-man team arrived at the house at 4:45 a.m. They began their assault at 5:30 a.m., before first light. The first militant managed to fire at the commandos with a pistol he kept by his bed side, but was killed an instant later. The second terrorist was shot before he had a chance to fire and died 40 minutes later. No NSG personnel were injured in the operation.
  • December 1999: Terrorists hijack Indian Airlines flight IC814 from Nepal, and land in Amritsar, Punjab. Within minutes of landing the Crisis Management Group (CMG), which authorizes the use of the NSG, is informed. But the CMG wastes precious hours and by the time the go-ahead is issued, it is too late. On the other hand, the NSG team on alert was elsewhere and no other team was raised during the delay. By the time the NSG reached Amritsar airport the hijackers became restless and ordered the plane to takeoff. Here too the NSG missed their opportunity by not blocking the runway or shooting out the planes tires. The plane lands in Kandahar, Afganisthan where one hostage is killed. Finally the Indian government agrees to the terrorists demands to release 3 jailed terrorists. The hostages are released and the terrorists escape to Pakistan.
NSG commandos taking over a hijacked train.

NSG operators conducting a train assault.

  • February 2000: Following the Flight IC814 fiasco, the Indian Government decided to implement an Air Marshal program. At least two NSG operators will be present on flights over select routes. These operators will be armed with weapons firing lethal but low-velocity fragmentation rounds to minimize danger to the passengers and prevent penetration of the aircraft. Another decision taken after the Flight IC814 fiasco, was to deploy NSG teams permanently at eight sensitive airports around the country, especially those bordering Pakistan and the North East. This decision will cut short reaction times for the NSG and eliminate hassles involved in flying the teams to the hijack site.
  • Ongoing: The NSG is used extensively to guard VIPs and VVIPs, especially those in the 'Z-plus' category. Many NSG personnel are seconded to the Special Protection Group (SPG) which guards the Prime Minister. However, the use of NSG for VIP protection has spiralled out of control recently. More than 19 persons currently enjoy NSG protection, mainly as a status symbol. The Home Minister has clamped down on this misuse and is currently phasing out the use of the NSG for VIP protection in all but the most serious cases (Z-plus category). From now on, NSG coverage will be provided based on a persons threat perception rather than status. This move has freed up a large number of operators for other missions. The NSG is also in demand as security consultants and are known to be active in the Middle East.
 

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