New Delhi: India and China are looking to continue troop deployment in the forward areas of Ladakh for a second consecutive winter, ThePrint has learnt.
This, despite the fact that both sides are expected to make forward movement in the Hot Springs area, the last unresolved face-off site, during the next corps commander-level talks, expected this month, sources in the defence establishment said.
According to defence sources, the continued deployment is a fallout of a “trust deficit” between the two sides as tensions over the western sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) continue to fester nearly 18 months since the stand-off began last April-May.
While both India and China have withdrawn from face-off sites on the northern and southern banks of Pangong Tso, besides those at Gogra and Galwan Valley, they continue to maintain extra troops as part of a multi-tier deployment.
Additional troop deployment has also taken place at Demchok and Depsang Plains. While the Indian and Chinese troops are not in a face-off at these points of conflict, they continue to be deployed here to counter each other’s possible movement.
“While we may be feeling the heat of the combat deployments in Ladakh, we have forced the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) to go for forward deployment, which is costing them money and affecting their morale,” a source in the defence establishment said.
The winter in Ladakh is famously bitter, with temperatures in the forward areas dropping to -30°C during its peak.
The minimum temperature in Ladakh has already hit 0°C, with the coming week’s forecast predicting a further dip. Last year marked the first time soldiers were deployed in the forward areas of the LAC through Ladakh’s harsh winter.
As in 2020, the Chinese, who traditionally return to their barracks after their patrols, have been forced to stay in forward areas during the winter.
This, Indian military officers say, is a development that the Chinese didn’t factor in.
When China first sought to flex its muscles by violating the LAC, it didn’t predict such a long stand-off would ensue, they add.
Army chief Gen M.M. Naravane told news agency ANI in an interview last week that the 13th round of corps commander-level talks is likely to be held soon, possibly in the second week of October. The 12th round was held on 31 July.
He also expressed concern over enhanced Chinese deployment “in considerable numbers across eastern Ladakh and up to Eastern Command”.
“We are also carrying out matching developments in terms of infrastructure and deployment of troops. We are quite poised in order to meet any eventuality,” he said.
China feels the heat of winter
Since the stand-off began last year, the Chinese have built/continue to build dozens of large weather-proof structures along the LAC in eastern Ladakh for their troops to stay in during the winter.
While withdrawal did happen from some of the friction points, the troops have not gone back to their traditional holding positions and continue to remain close to the LAC, the sources said.
Other Chinese construction — new helipads, widening of airstrips, new barracks, new surface-to-air missile sites and radar locations — has been continuing as well.
China has carried out massive construction around the LAC amid the stand-off, including building new bridges and roads beside housing, to boost its military capability in eastern Ladakh.
On its part, India has completed its enhanced winter stockings for eastern Ladakh, sources said, adding that more infrastructure has been created over the last few months.
Not only are additional troops being maintained in the area, India has also inducted a full regiment of the 155 mm Vajra K9 self-propelled tracked howitzers — with a range of several kilometres — and one regiment of the 155 mm ultra-light weight howitzers procured from the US, sources said.
While the Vajras were ordered for the desert and plains, three of them were brought to Ladakh earlier this year for trials.
The Army was satisfied with the trials, and is considering ordering at least two more regiments for the mountains.
Sources said two additional Brigades, including one from a re-balanced Strike Corps, have undertaken rotation. New elements have been brought in for the winter, while some existing troops have been pulled back to ensure optimal force deployment during the season.
While 2020 saw an increased and rapid induction of troops in direct response to the Chinese aggression, as “mirror deployment”, this time all steps have been taken in view of the long-term posture needed, sources said.
“The summer period is also the operational period during which new troops come from outside for training and acclimatisation. These troops carry out their training for two months or so and are replaced by new troops. The existing troops under the Leh-based 14 Corps will remain. Such rotation happens till October end. Given the tensions, additional deployment will be there for winter too,” a source said.
The Army has also utilised the last one year for enhanced deployment of new surveillance equipment bought under emergency procurement, sources in the defence and security establishment said. It is a mix of humans and technology that is being increasingly used for surveillance of the border areas and Chinese movement, the sources added.
Ahead of the 2021 summer, the Army carried out a series of deployment changes and even rewrote the Order of Battle (ORBAT) to tackle the Chinese threat.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)