Recently, there were reports that a Special Frontier Force (SFF) unit, referred to as Vikas Battalion, has been instrumental in occupying some key heights on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Ladakh to thwart any occupation by the Chinese troops.
What is the ‘Special Frontier Force’?
- SFF was raised in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 Sino-India war. It was a covert outfit which recruited Tibetans (now it has a mixture of Tibetans and Gorkhas) and initially went by the name of Establishment 22. It was named so because it was raised by Major General Sujan Singh Uban, an Artillery officer who had commanded 22 Mountain Regiment.
- Subsequently, the group was renamed as Special Frontier Force and it now falls under the purview of the Cabinet Secretariat where it is headed by an Inspector General who is an Army officer of the rank of Major General.
- The units that comprise the SFF are known as Vikas battalions.
- The SFF units are not part of the Army but they function under operational control of the Army. The units have their own rank structures which have equivalent status with Army ranks. The SFF units function virtually as any other Army unit in operational areas despite having a separate charter and history.
- Incidentally, women soldiers too form a part of SFF units and perform specialised tasks.
Role in 1971 Indo-Pak war
- In 1971, the SFF operated in the Chittagong hill tracts in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) to neutralise Pakistan Army positions and help the Indian Army advance ahead. The operation was code-named ‘Operation Eagle’.
- They were airlifted into operational areas and infiltrated behind enemy lines to destroy lines of communication of Pakistan Army.
- They also played a vital role in preventing the escape of Pakistan Army personnel from Bangladesh into Burma (now Myanmar). By one estimate more than 3,000 SFF personnel were used in the covert operations in the eastern theatre of the 1971 war. A large number of SFF personnel received awards for their bravery.