New Delhi: The India-China disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh is proceeding at a slow pace and the Army is eyeing a long haul through the region’s bitter icy winter for the 30,000 additional troops moved there amid recent border tensions.
With the onset of winter in Ladakh just months away (October), the Army is busy making preparations to equip the additional soldiers with the right gear and adequate rations to deal with the tough conditions ushered in by the six-month cold season.
As many as 6,000 ALS trucks — the olive green vehicles that serve as one of the Army’s mainstays for transporting personnel and goods — are likely to be pressed into service to carry tonnes of rations and kerosene oil to Ladakh for winter stocking.
The estimates so far suggest that, apart from the usual supplies for soldiers permanently posted in the area, the Army may need to transport an additional 20,000 tonnes of ration and at least 15,000 kilolitres of kerosene oil, approximately, for the 30,000 soldiers, sources told ThePrint.
Furthermore, the sources said, the Army is looking to arrange additional sets of extreme cold conditional (ECC) clothing, and temporary shelters and tents.
A detailed plan for the movement of troops for various contingencies, including leave, is also being chalked out, keeping in mind the current Covid-19 protocol, the sources added.
The 14 corps, which usually serves at the LAC in Ladakh, has approximately 70,000 troops who also oversee the world’s highest battlefield at Siachen, among other areas.
“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.
The Army officer added that there is a large supply chain that underlies the transport of goods to the border. “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 said.
Clothing and rations
Army sources said the harsh terrain and climatic conditions of Ladakh during the winter necessitate special clothing and shelters.
“Clothing similar to those issued to troops deployed at the Siachen glacier is being procured at a fast pace,” the officer quoted above said.
According to the officer, they were looking to procure around 15,000 sets of such clothing.
Asked how the estimates were arrived at, sources said not all soldiers are posted in forward areas, adding that they are also making other arrangements.
Around 2,000 sets of previously worn serviceable (PWS) clothing — usable clothing of troops who have been de-inducted from Siachen, usually given to soldiers at slightly lower altitudes — are likely to be readily available and more will be reconditioned for use, a second source said.
All reserves of clothing and tents, which are held in various depots specifically to cater to supply-chain disruptions, are also being released for use by the additional troops, the sources added.
Additional Arctic tents are being ordered, and “operational works stores” — stores used to create habitat, protective defences and bunkers and security fences, among other things — have been reprioritised and reappropriated from other locations within the command, the sources said.
Preparations have also been made for the transport of additional rations and fuel to the border.
Every soldier is authorised approximately 2.5 kg of rations per day. For 30,000 soldiers over 180 days or the six winter months, this could translate to approximately 13,500 tonnes, sources said. Additional special rations are authorised for troops in high-altitude terrain, which could add up to another 6,500 tonnes. The Army has also estimated an additional requirement of approximately 15,000 kilolitres of kerosene oil.
All the reserve vehicles in the command have been diverted to carry additional stocks to the border, and shortfalls are being made up by hiring civil transport, the sources said.
The sources added that both road axes in Ladakh — through Zojila and Rohtang — are being utilised for the supplies, both of which remain snowed in during the winter months.
Additionally, the second source said, all units moved in from peace locations have been asked to carry their reserve stocks with them.
Amid the Covid-19 environment, sources said, managing leave and other movement of troops pose additional challenges. Accordingly, quarantine facilities at various transit camps have been established, they added.
“Increased convoys and additional civil vehicles are being planned. Additional sorties of transport aircraft and increased number of charter flights are being pressed into service. Talks to negotiate additional charter flights are in progress,” the first officer said, discussing some of the additional measures.
“Optimisation of Leh, Thoise and Kargil airfields is being carried out to speed up the turnover of troops,” the officer added.
Amid the tensions with China, the Army has already been equipped with additional sets of riot-control equipment, particularly because the current rules of engagement at the LAC do not allow firing.
A special session of the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) Wednesday empowered the armed forces to go ahead with Rs 300 crore worth of capital acquisitions to meet emergent operational requirements, even as the military has been on a shopping spree over the past few weeks.
Among other things, the Army is planning to place orders for Heron surveillance drones and Spike anti-tank guided missiles from Israel.