What is the Difference Between PARA SF and NSG? India's two Elite special forces.


Para SF and NSG special forces have demonstrated their strength on many occasions, which is not news to us. For most hopefuls, the possibility of joining one of these select groups is a crucial factor in making this choice. Both of these groups conduct their operations in complete secrecy, leaving us very little to go on when trying to understand them. 

The Para SF, a renowned special forces unit within the Indian Army’s Parachute Regiment, excels in a wide array of specialized operations. Their expertise spans hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, counter-insurgency, search and destroy missions, as well as human recovery operations.

Originating from the formation of the 50th Parachute Brigade in October 1941 during World War II, the unit’s rich history can be traced back to those early days. Specifically, the 9th Parachute Special Forces Battalion, established in 1966 as the 9th Parachute Commando Battalion, stands as the oldest among the nine para SF battalions within the Indian Army.

 Over the years, they have accomplished numerous successful missions, including their notable involvement in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflict, Operation Bluestar, Operation Pawan, Operation Cactus, the Kargil War, the 2015 Indian counter-insurgency operation in Myanmar, the 2016 Indian Line of Control strike, as well as various anti-terror operations.


What is the Difference Between PARA SF and NSG? India's two Elite special forces.

The Parachute Regiment comprises 17 battalions, including nine Special Forces, five Airborne, two Territorial Armies, and one Counter-Insurgency (Rashtriya Rifles) battalion. Initially, there were plans to raise more battalions to augment the strength of the special forces, but the challenging selection process hindered this objective.

Moreover, the lack of a centralized command and standardized selection procedure results in varying entry requirements across different Para (SF) battalions. 

In the mid-1980s, there were discussions about consolidating the three para commando battalions into a specialized organization called the Special Forces Regiment. However, these plans were put on hold due to logistical and administrative complexities, and the Parachute Regiment continues to train and recruit soldiers independently.

The 9 battalions are:

  1. 1 PARA (SF) – for urban warfare and CI/CT
  2. 2 PARA (SF) – for mountain warfare and CI/CT
  3. 3 PARA (SF) – for desert warfare and CI/CT
  4. 4 PARA (SF) – for mountain warfare and CI/CT
  5. 9 PARA (SF) – for mountain warfare, urban warfare and CI/CT
  6. 10 PARA (SF) – for desert warfare and CI/CT
  7. 11 PARA (SF) – for jungle warfare and CI/CT
  8. 12 PARA (SF) – for jungle & mountain warfare and CI/CT
  9. 21 PARA (SF) – for jungle & mountain warfare and CI/CT


The Para SF of the Indian Army undertakes various critical functions. They excel in special reconnaissance missions, gathering vital intelligence for military operations. 

Their expertise lies in conducting deep penetration and precise strikes behind enemy lines to disrupt crucial enemy facilities and communications. The unit actively engages in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations, employing both covert and overt/direct action special operations. 

They are proficient in hostage rescue operations conducted within and outside Indian territory. Additionally, the Para SF is entrusted with special operations, including direct action, counter-terrorism, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, counter-insurgency, search and destroy missions, as well as people recovery tasks.


The Indian paratrooper force consists of volunteers, including new recruits and transfers from regular army formations. 

Those aspiring to join the Paratroopers (Airborne) Battalions (5, 6, 7, 23, 29) undergo a three-month selection process, while candidates aiming for the Para (Special Forces) Battalions (1, 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 21 PARA) undergo a six-month selection process. To become a Para (Special Forces), individuals must first qualify as Paratroopers. Once selected, they have the option to pursue further training in the Special Forces.

The training to become a special forces operator lasts for 3.5 years, the longest duration worldwide, and continues throughout their service. 

Special forces members receive comprehensive training covering both fundamental and advanced skills. They learn specialized techniques for infiltration and exfiltration, utilizing methods such as airborne operations (parachuting) or combat diving (water-based operations).


What is the Difference Between PARA SF and NSG? India's two Elite special forces.
Image Courtesy: Pravin Talan

The National Security Guard (NSG) is a specialized counter-terrorism unit within the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). The National Security Guard was formed on October 16, 1984, after Operation Blue Star, the attack on the Golden Temple, and the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, “to fight terrorist operations and defend states against internal disturbances.” Members of the National Security Guard are known by their alias, the Black Cats.

Structure and Organisation

Special Action Unit (SAG)

There are two varieties of SAGs, designated 51 and 52. They are both part of the counter-terrorist force (CTF), the NSG’s counter-terrorism arm, together with the Eleventh Special Response Group (11 SRG). 

52 SAG handles anti-hijacking operations, while 51 SAG and 11 SRG focus on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. The CAPF provides the most SRG members, whereas the Indian Army provides the bulk of SAG members.

Special Ranger Group (SRG)

There are three Special Ranger Groups, numbered 11, 12, and 13. In addition to 51 SAG, 11 SRG is an integral member of the Cunter terrorist force (CTF) and is used only for anti-terrorist operations. The 12 and 13 SRG provide close protection and specific security services for high-profile targets in India, such as the defense minister.

 The SRG comprises various internal security forces and border guard forces like the Central Reserve Police Force, the Central Industrial Security Force, and the Assam Rifles. In recent years, the Indian government decided to shift the SRGs’ primary focus from protection to NSG requirements like the SAG and the 11 SRG.

Special Composite Group (SCG)

In order to facilitate regional deployment, the National Security Group’s Special Composite Group (SCG) has set up five regional centers. The SCG is a joint Army and CAPF unit tasked with conducting anti-terror operations in their assigned region. Each SCG is commanded by a colonel-level commander deputed from the Indian Army. The five major centers are as follows:

  • 26 SCG Mumbai
  • 27 SCG Chennai
  • 28 SCG Hyderabad
  • 29 SCG Kolkata
  • 30 SCG Gandhinagar

The functions performed by the SCG encompass a wide range of critical tasks. They are highly skilled in countering hijacking operations in various environments, including land, sea, and air, effectively responding to and resolving hijack situations to ensure the safety of individuals involved. 

Their expertise extends to bomb disposal, encompassing comprehensive activities such as searching, detecting, and neutralizing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mitigating potential threats posed by explosives.

 The special forces also play a crucial role in post-blast investigations (PBI), meticulously examining and analyzing the aftermath of explosions to gather valuable intelligence and evidence.

 Moreover, they excel in hostage rescue missions, as exemplified by their successful operation at the Taj Hotel during the 26/11 Mumbai attack, demonstrating their proficiency in rescuing hostages from high-risk situations. Additionally, the special forces provide:

  • VIP security services.
  • Offering protection to esteemed individuals, including Cabinet Ministers and other prominent figures.
  • Ensuring their safety and well-being.

Selection & Training

The selection process is highly challenging, with a dropout rate ranging from 70 to 80 percent. The initial phase of their rigorous 14-month training, conducted in Manesar, Haryana, focuses on fundamental skills and lasts for three months.

 This phase includes comprehensive physical fitness training, encompassing activities such as completing a demanding cross-country obstacle course, performing high-altitude jumps, navigating diverse terrains, and scaling different obstacles. 

The training also incorporates a culmination event, a strenuous cross-country marathon that combines martial arts and target shooting, assessing candidates’ ability to perform under stress and fatigue. Successful candidates proceed to an advanced training program lasting nine months.

In addition, aspirants are required to undergo a psychological examination as part of the selection process. The advanced training covers various specialized areas, including urban counter-terrorism, underwater operations, home intervention, counter-UAV and anti-drone operations, bomb detection and disposal skills, and several other specialized disciplines.

In conclusion, both the Para SF and NSG forces are prepared to confront and overcome various challenges through their extensive training and advanced equipment. While their roles and functions may differ, one shared aspect is their unwavering dedication to excellence and their rigorous training.