The Indian Army is preparing for the long haul in eastern Ladakh while the disengagement process is underway. The Indian troops not only need to tackle Chinese PLA soldiers but also harsh, extreme climatic conditions in the mountainous Ladakh region.
Tensions have been soaring between the two nuclear-armed neighbours after the Glawan valley conflict in June, when the Chinese and Indian troops got into a violent clash that resulted in 20 Indian casualties and an unknown number on the Chinese side.
Looking at the ongoing disengagement process through military and diplomatic talks, experts believe that the process will take longer to reach the point of total disengagement.
With additional troops moved to key areas of Eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army has decided to maintain its current strength of troops tanks and other weaponry along with Indian Air Force (IAF) on high alert on forwarding airbases along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) while the Navy will maintain its aggressive deployment in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) along the upcoming winter months.
The situation on the 3,488 km long LAC is unique this time. Retired Lieutenant General DS Hooda, who is a former commander of the Indian Army’s Northern Command at Udhampur explained that such an extraordinary operation has never taken place in northern Ladakh. He added that this is a duty that needs to be carried out no matter the obstacles on the path.
The Army has already started preparing to equip soldiers with the right gear and supplying rations for the winter months. Apart from the usual supply, the estimated additional supply will include 20,000 tonnes of ration and at least 15,000 kilolitres of kerosene oil, approximately, for the 30,000 soldiers.
“Cost of keeping one soldier there, starting from buying of matches to his condiments, to his food, to his fuel for warming to his shelter to everything, for one turnaround year is easily at least to the tune of Rs 10 lakh,” said Major General A.P. Singh, who served during 2011-13 as the head of logistical operations of XIV Corps that is responsible for the LAC.
“Most troops will be there for their first winter. It will be very difficult for them as they will also have to be combat-trained in these excruciating conditions,” Singh said. He further revealed that at such high altitudes, the Army obtains specialised equipment to keep troops warm and ready for possible health issues. The Army provisions for Special Clothing and Mountaineering Equipment (SCME) which also includes ropes, special helmets, snow boots, jackets etc.
“This year, with the induction of additional troops, even their administrative requirements need to be catered for, which puts an extra load on the existing infrastructure,” a senior Army officer said. “This chain gets cut off during the winter due to heavy snowfall and extreme weather conditions, necessitating enhanced and advanced preparations during this period,” the officer added.
In the connection to shelters to be built, Singh said that with only the month of August left to make all preparations, the work is increased by many folds. “With the strength doubling, you can imagine the amount of stuff that has to be built, including heat-proof shelters or at least liveable for the -20°C temperatures,” he added. The cement does not set after September.”
With the winter approaching, stationing in the high altitude region of Ladakh’s harsh temperatures reaching beyond minus 20 degrees celsius is no less than feat in itself.