Bengaluru, Feb 21: Every visitor who steps into the Air Force Station Yelahanka is curious to know about a group of mighty men moving around in a blue open gypsy. Their camouflage attire, killer looks and mean weapons are being admired by every aviation aficionado flocking the show.
If the Breitling Wingwalkers have stolen the hearts of plane people at Aero India with their mesmerising sky party skills, on ground, the Special Forces of the Indian Air Force - Garuds - have caught the imagination of thousands who stop by to take a closer look at these men who appear to be from a different planet!
At Aero India 2015, the Garuds, which otherwise have an offensive charter like most Special Forces, play the role of contingency response specific to counter terror threats.
Tough selection process
Sources tell OneIndia that around 15 per cent of the total strength who hit the selection line to become a Garud makes the final cut. Formed in 2003, under the Directorate of Offensive Operations, the Gaurds have become a formidable force with their wings spread all over India.
Garud officers are drawn from the pool of personnel who voluntarily opt from all branches of the IAF, to tow this demanding career line. The airmen are a mix of volunteers and direct recruits.
The selection process of volunteers is a grueling physical and mental ordeal spread over a period of a few days.
Tactical training modules
On completing the selection process, a potential candidate is put through three months of probation where he is trained and checked on a variety of mental, physical and a host of specialized soldiering skills.
The tactical phase of three months trains a candidate in SF skills, tactics, survival modules, heliborne training, martial arts and a variety of other special operations enablement.
Those who successfully clear the probation phase (which are a very few in number) move on to undergo further training in the tactical module, paratrooping, combat swimming and driving. On completion of this basic training, a candidate earns his prized Commando Badge and Maroon Beret deeming him to be a qualified SF operative. Thus, a Garud is born.
Those who were part of the formative years of the Garuds were trained for over two-and-a-half-years with stints abroad as well. Sources now disclose that the training is now spread over 74 weeks at the Garud School near New Delhi.
Further specialized training in a variety of other fields is undertaken at the respective units.
Every trooper qualifies in one SF skill which includes either the use of explosives, communication, battle-field medicine and weapons. Additional role-specific training is also given at various stages of a Garud's career.
Best of the best weapons
A family of Tavor rifles form the integral part of a Garud's arsenal. These are complimented with additional weapons like snipers, rocket-launchers, heavy machine guns and grenade launchers. A pick of the pack is the baby Glock pistol concealed in the tactical vest.
Sources said that a Garud also carries a variety of navigation, surveillance, communication gadgets and explosives to undertake missions. At Aero India, the Garuds have equipment sized up for their tasks for mission optimization.
Roles specific to aviation environment
While not much of details are made public on Garuds, most roles are offensive operations specific to the aviation environment.
Among the roles are combat search and rescue, laser designation of targets, recon, surveillance and destruction. Like most other SF the security concerns of the nation see them employed in various counter-terror roles also.
At the unit level, training for roles includes long day and night speed marches, navigation, exhaustive weapon and skill training.
Yoga, martial arts give them an edge
To preserve longevity, the Garuds also practice yoga and martial arts. They are also encouraged to enhance military qualifications through a variety of adventure activities and courses.
The Garuds are the youngest of the SFs in the country. The IAF, realizing the potential of the Garuds, has ensured that this organisation has grown to a level of a formidable operational stature.
There are many misconceptions about the role of the Gaurds. However, like many air force SFs across the globe, the Garuds are created to operate deep behind enemy lines.
"Myths don't matter, mission accomplishment does," whispers a Garud.
Photos: A Veeramani
(Photos shot exclusively for OneIndia and Tarmak007 with clearances from the Indian Air Force.)