Army to construct next-gen 3D-printed bunkers at LAC

Updated on Nov 16, 2022 03:06 AM IST

The Indian Army will construct modular, 3D-printed, next generation bunkers to provide better protection to front-line soldiers guarding the country’s border with China in the Ladakh sector.

A 3D-printed bunker. (HT Photo)
A 3D-printed bunker. (HT Photo)
ByRahul Singh, New Delhi

The Indian Army will construct modular, 3D-printed, next generation bunkers to provide better protection to front-line soldiers guarding the country’s border with China in the Ladakh sector, create underground facilities for the storage of ammunition at forward locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and build a raft of new roads, bridges and tunnels as part of an overarching infrastructure push to strengthen its capabilities in the sensitive sector at a time of a lingering border standoff with the neighbour, officials familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named.

The modern bunkers, which the army terms 3D printed permanent defences, will come up near LAC next year onwards, and will be able to withstand a direct hit by a tank shell, said one of the officials cited above who tracks infrastructure development in forward areas. Their name comes from the fact that they are made using 3D printers; the material used is a proprietary form of quick drying concrete and admixture.

For at least a few years now, the US army, for instance, has been using 3D printers to create bunkers.

“These defences are very strong and can withstand a direct hit from a T-90 tank,” the official said. “Trials have already been conducted in the western sector (Rajasthan) and eastern Ladakh. Construction of permanent defences along LAC will begin next year.” This project (3D permanent defences) is being implemented by the Corps of Engineers. These defences can be easily moved by two soldiers if needed as the heaviest component in the structure weighs only 40kg, he said.

Durability and lightness are the benefits of the bunkers. The modules are being built by the army in partnership with the IITs at Gandhinagar and Madras. The technology startups that are part of the incubation cells of the two IITs have the printers required for this. The 3D printers will be moved to Ladakh for making the bunkers there as it will save time and transportation costs, HT has learnt.

The other benefit is speed — a bunker can be printed in a matter of hours. “That’s the real advantage. The bunkers can be churned out very quickly depending on the army’s requirements,” the official cited above said.

While 20-odd 3D-printed bunkers have already been made, the army will construct hundreds of such bunkers in Ladakh and the numbers will gradually increase, he said.

To be sure, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also ramped up infrastructure across LAC after the border standoff erupted in May 2020. The border standoff between India and China is now in its third year, with a full resolution still not in sight even though the two sides have had partial success in disengaging rival soldiers from some friction areas on LAC and talks are on to end the deadlock that has cast a shadow over the bilateral relationship.

The Indian Army has been scaling up infrastructure in eastern Ladakh in a phased manner. “Habitat (including modular shelters) and technical storage for 22,000 troops and approximately 450 tanks/artillery guns have been constructed after the Galwan Valley skirmish in June 2020. Focus is now on construction of permanent defences and other infrastructure to improve defence preparedness,” said a second official.

Despite four rounds of disengagement from Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso, Gogra (PP-17A) and Hot Springs (PP-15), the Indian and Chinese armies still have more than 60,000 troops each and advanced weaponry deployed in the Ladakh theatre. The Indian Army’s infrastructure push is, however, not limited to the Ladakh sector, and encompasses the border with China in the central (Uttarakhand) and eastern sectors (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) where several road, tunnel and habitat projects are underway, the second official said.

Modular shelters, which are temperature controlled and movable, similar to the ones set up in Ladakh at heights of almost 18,000 feet are also planned in forward locations in the central and eastern sectors. Major projects being pursued to improve connectivity in the eastern sector include the 2,000-km Arunachal frontier highway, also known as the Mago-Thingbu-Vijaynagar border highway, the officials said. The project is likely to cost 40,000 crore.

The Indian and Chinese armies have held 16 rounds of military talks so far, but problems at Depsang in Daulet Beg Oldi sector and Charding Nullah Junction (CNJ) in Demchok sector are still on the negotiating table. The infrastructure development in eastern Ladakh covers Demchok and areas near the Hot Springs sector too, the officials said.

Newly inducted equipment such as heavy excavators, spider excavators and light-weight crawler rock drills have helped in speeding up crucial projects, they added. The ongoing projects in Ladakh including upgrading bridges on the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) road that provides connectivity to the country’s northern-most outpost, Daulat Beg Oldi.

“We have achieved more in terms of infrastructure development during the last two years than we did in the two decades preceding the border standoff. It is important to keep our focus on infrastructure development to mitigate the Chinese challenge,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).

The army is using the same 3D printing method for building living shelters for soldiers, the officials said. Four such double-storey shelters have come up in the eastern sector, with each capable of accommodating 64 soldiers, they said.

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