New Delhi: The Army has finally completed the establishment of habitat facilities for all troops deployed in the Ladakh sector as the months-long standoff with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continues, official sources have said. The exercise was completed in a race against time as temperatures in the area have already reached -20 degrees Celsius, with the coming weeks set to bring a further drop.
Nearly 50,000 additional troops along with equipment have been pumped into Ladakh to counter Chinese transgressions at multiple locations in the region since early May. To accommodate the troops in conducive conditions, the Army has set up additional “smart camps” with integrated facilities for electricity, water, heating, health and hygiene, including in the forward areas. These are similar to the state-of-the-art camps that have been built in the area over the years.
The current stand-off marks the first time that soldiers will be deployed in the forward areas of the LAC through Ladakh’s harsh winter.
Altitudes in Ladakh range from High (8000-12,000 feet above sea level) to Extremely High Altitude (18,000 feet and above) and the area experiences up to 40 feet of snow after November.
Coupled with the wind chill factor, temperatures dip down to minus 30-40 degrees Celsius. In addition, road access also gets affected for a brief period of time.
Among other things, the heating facility in the camps will ensure that the freezing temperatures in the region do not affect operational capability.
“In order to ensure operational efficiency of troops during the winter, the Indian Army has completed the establishment of habitat facilities for all soldiers deployed in the sector,” an official source in the Army said.
In addition, adequate civil infrastructure has also been identified to cater to any emergent requirements, the source added.
Logistics among primary concerns
Logistics have been among the primary concerns of the Army as the standoff with China at the LAC continues. This was because of an infrastructure shortage in eastern Ladakh, stemming from the fact that such large-scale movement of troops has been unheard of in the region, and the challenging terrain.
The first focus was on winter stocking for the additional soldiers and procuring special weather-specific clothing and arctic tents. Stocking of ration items and kerosene oil, to help soldiers deal with the tough conditions expected during the six-month winter season, was a priority as well.
The backbone of the massive logistics operation in Ladakh are the underground fuel dumps, with a capacity of 4 lakh litres each, vast quantities of high-grade diesel and kerosene, and mobile Air Traffic Control (ATC) units.
In late August and early September, central security agencies had carried out a review and assessment of the state of logistical affairs and pointed out several shortcomings.
A source had then said the area requires “Siachen-like” preparations, noting that the herculean task in any operation is not deploying soldiers to the front, but providing the logistical back-up.
Getting rations is one thing, and setting up the kitchen another, the source had added.
Multiple rounds of talks between India and China on the LAC standoff have failed to yield any resolution. While China has now agreed to carry out a discussion on all friction points with India at the LAC, including Depsang Plains, the dates for the next Corps Commander level talks are yet to be fixed by the Chinese.
This is despite both countries issuing a statement after the 8th round of Corps Commander talks on 6 November that the next one would be held “soon”.