The National Security Guard : India’s Second Line of Defense


The National Security Guard (NSG) was established in 1984 and implemented for the first time to counter terrorist activities under the National Security Guard Act of the Parliament in 1986 by the Cabinet Secretariat. It is a special force unit, founded with the sole motive of primarily battling multifarious counter terrorism activities of our country. Modelled after the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) and Germany’s Border Marksman Group 9 (GSG-9), NSG functions completely within the Central Armed Police Force structure (CAPF).

However, NSG is an elite commando group providing a second line of defense for the nation. NSG is a ‘Federal Contingency Deployment Force’ with considerable experience in handling counter insurgency operations, multifaceted terrorist activities and credits for a considerable number of successful counter insurgency and counter terrorist operations up its sleeve starting from the operation in Golden temple in Punjab to the present day disruptive activities in Jammu and Kashmir. The reasons are evident as to why NSG is accredited to be one of the best counter terrorist and special operations unit in Asia.

The various responsibilities vested in NSG are listed below:

• Countermanding of terrorist threats in vital installations even if it means engaging them in a fire fight, if necessary

• Negotiation and neutralization of hijacking situations (including both grounded and in flight situations)

• NSG functions as an effective bomb disposal unit and also conducts investigations after a bomb blast (Post Blast Investigation, i.e., PBI)

• Hostage rescue operations

• Offering all round protection to the VIPs and VVIPs even if it means taking a bullet in the line of duty

• Detecting sabotage and other disruptive activities and neutralizing the saboteurs in time.

Current Developments implemented by the Government for further improving the performance of NSG:

In April 2012, Union Minister P Chidambaram laid the foundations of a composite establishment for the Counter Hijacking Unit of NSG in Delhi with a budget of Rs. 47.42 crores (already sanctioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs, MHA). The proposed composite structure was allocated an area of 15,502 square meters to provide accommodations for 540 commandos and include classrooms, training facilities and other amenities needed to further improve the concerned infrastructure. The construction of this facility was scheduled to be completed in 18 months.

The same year, Home Minister P Chidambaram announced a sanction of Rs 34.89 crore for buying two US made Total Containment Vehicles (TCVs). TCV, a giant vehicle, has the capacity to defuse dangerous and contagious bombs weighing up to 8 kilos and also to detect and neutralize any threat of chemical or biological nature. It was revealed that the ‘black cat’ commando forces are planning to procure 8 more TCVs, one of which will be in the permanent possession of the anti-hijacking units of the NSG stationed permanently at the IGI airport in New Delhi. Even the four new NSG hubs in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata will have the privilege of receiving one new TCV each. TCVs are completely unmanned and can be operated remotely. These newer versions of TCVs are far more advanced than the smaller version that were used to diffuse two bombs in Central Park, Connaught Place, New Delhi in 2008.

Challenges currently faced by NSG:

The former National Security Advisor (NSA), and the current Governor of West Bengal, M K Narayanan, are both against the further expansion of NSG and are now propagators of the idea of a ‘leaner and meaner’ NSG. Their logic is relevant as a bloated NSG will defeat the very cause of establishing this elite special operations force. This has happened with the CAPF where a total mix-up of the principles have occurred upon which CAPF had been based. The ever increasing number of the CAPF personnel and their deployment in various duties starting from maintaining general law and order to fighting Naxalites has completely blurred the mandates of CAPF, resulting in a general decline of their performance. It is to be mentioned here that all elite units all over the world maintain a fixed number of personnel. Even the Navy SEAL of the US, who had bagged the rare credit of killing Osama Bin Laden, had a commando strength of only 2000. Current strength of NSG is a little over 7,300 but the recent recruitment waves will double the strength in the coming years.

The original idea of setting up of four NSG hubs in different parts of the country has already been implemented to reduce reaction time in case of an emergency, along with an additional hub in Gujarat. Narayanan’s logic of a ‘leaner and meaner’ NSG is definitely viable as NSG was originally designed to handle all forms of terrorism and to be used in exceptional situations. Expansion of the NSG will blunt the edge it has over the terrorism scenario in India and will ultimately be reduced to general law and order maintaining from a specialist force.

Narayanan’s logic is definitely gaining ground, as evident from the new NSG chief Subhash Joshi’s decision of pulling out 900 NSG personnel from VIP and VVIP protection duties and reassigning them to their original task of counter terrorism and counter hijacking. As per a remark of senior NSG personnel, “Considering NSG’s expansion to the new hubs and keeping in mind the emerging trends in terrorism, the force needs more commandos to undertake counter terror operations.”

A few suggestions involving the armaments used and off the field functions of NSG:

• NSG need to replace its heavier automatic pistols with something light like the Glock P9 housing 19 rounds and easy to manoeuvre with laser focusing devices which will prove more effective in an extended firefight. Further, extensive practice with handguns are needed, especially head-shots because the first lesson that the terrorists have is to take flawless head-shots. And in a packed hostage or hijacking situation, it is the small arms that prove useful rather than the automatic weapons, while engaging the perpetrators.

• The Government needs to issue quality Kevlar body armor and Kevlar gloves (to fend off knife attacks). The current body armor that’s being used can easily be penetrated by a high powered rifle shot, thus offering no practical protection.

• The snipers need to have their rifles equipped with Starlite/ Infra-red scope such that accurate shots are possible in low light situations. Besides night vision goggles and compact communications kits also need to be introduced.

• And lastly there should be better liaison between the various security agencies and a transparent exchange of information between them.

Only some of the amendments possible are mentioned here. 26/11 proved many deficiencies on the part of the combating forces. Room for improvement is large, and they are no doubt expensive. It is now up to the Government as to how far it will extend its cooperation for elite units like the National Security Guard. But in the end we should keep two things in mind; one, the terrorists have access to state of the art weapons and secondly, victory lies not in numbers but superior training and the correct use of technologically advanced weapons.

Related Information:

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