New Doklam roads set to alter India, China military dynamics
India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has built an alternative road through which its troops can enter the Doklam valley — the site of a 73-day military standoff between India and China in 2017 — where the Chumbi valley of China, Bhutan and India converge, a development that has the potential to alter the military dynamics in the region.
In 2017, the Indian Army was forced to move to the trijunction through a single road in the absence of an alternative, delaying the deployment of troops in Doklam. The alternative road will enable access to the area through two points, easing the logistic difficulties, reducing time and making the process of deployment smoother.
“The alternate road will help inter-valley troops transfer and reinforcement,” a senior military officer said on condition of anonymity.
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The standoff at the India-Bhutan-Tibet trijunction began on June 16, 2017, when the People’s Liberation Army entered Doklam in a bid to alter the status quo in violation of Beijing’s existing understanding with both India and Bhutan. The issue was eventually resolved with the disengagement of border personnel on August 28, 2017.
Importantly, of the 61 strategic roads spanning 3,346 km being built by BRO along the India-China border, 3,298 km are now connected. Over 2,400 km, or nearly 72%, of these roads are already blacktopped, making them all-weather roads.
This year, BRO will complete blacktopping another 11 India-China strategic roads. Blacktopping of another nine roads will be completed next year. “Construction of just six roads — three in the east and three in the west — of the India-China strategic roads with a total length of just 58 km remain,” Lieutenant General Harpal Singh, director general of BRO, said. The rapid construction along the India-China border over the last few years has changed the military dynamics in the region. This includes all-weather alternative access into Ladakh, passing through the Rohtang -Koksar- Kelong route into the Zanskar valley and further up into Nimu. This access will reduce travel time for the military by several hours. Three more tunnels — Baralach La, Lachung La, and Tanglang La — are now being constructed. The Rohtang tunnel will be thrown open this December.
In Arunachal Pradesh, the 180 km-long road parallel to the India-China border connecting Passighat to Brahmakund is also complete. Significantly, Taksin and Tama Chung Chung are linked by the road connecting the Eastern and Western RALP (Rest of Arunachal Pradesh, a military term), saving thousands of kilometres of journey.
Tama Chung Chung was being “air -maintained” till recently. “And, to move from western Arunachal Pradesh to eastern Arunachal Pradesh, one moved south into Assam and climbed back north,” a second senior military officer who did not want to be named said.
In the west, the critical 255 km Durbok-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road connecting Leh to the northernmost corner of India, which lies a few kilometres south of the crucial Karakoram Pass, is now complete and blacktopped. Significantly, all the 40-odd bridges along the DSDBO road have been widened and strengthened to allow heavy vehicles to travel with ease.
“Time for moving troops, equipment, supplies, and stocks has reduced by about 40%,” a senior official in the ministry of defence (MoD) who did not want to be named said.
“Earlier, convoys made their own road while moving up, now with the bridges being widened and the road coming, movement is much faster,” a third officer said on condition of anonymity. Importantly, the biggest bridge on the DSDBO bridge (road) — midway along the 255 km road which was proving to be a major challenge — is now complete.
“Given the difficult rocky terrain and that construction season is limited to only just three months, several micro-foundations were built and were clubbed together instead of one large foundation for piers to support the bridge,” the second senior officer quoted above said.
The officer added: “BRO has adopted new cementitious- and admixture- based technology — which allow constructing roads faster in colder climates where construction season is smaller and also material doesn’t easily disintegrate unlike traditional constructions — for surfacing like the Chinese to construct the roads. The new technology has reduced the time taken to construct and blacktop the roads by about one-third.”