In eastern Ladakh, Indian soldiers are holding positions at heights of almost 20,000 feet in the Finger Area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso. 0_000105B)(PTI)
In eastern Ladakh, Indian soldiers are holding positions at heights of almost 20,000 feet in the Finger Area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso. 0_000105B)(PTI)

Siachen lessons give India an edge

The Indian Army has perfected its mountain warfare drills over decades and its soldiers possess the tenacity and resilience to overcome the toughest challenges that extreme altitudes pose, said a second official.
By Rahul Singh | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON NOV 30, 2020 04:50 AM IST

The Indian Army’s decades-long experience in high-altitude warfare -- particularly the lessons learnt in Siachen -- bestow a tremendous advantage on Indian soldiers holding inhospitable and rugged heights in eastern Ladakh to prevent the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from altering status quo in the sensitive theatre that has been at the centre of border tensions between India and China for nearly eight months, officials familiar with mountain warfare said on Saturday.

The Indian Army has an upper hand over PLA as the latter lacks combat experi ence in high-altitude warfare and has not permanently deployed troops to extreme heights the way India has to secure its farthest frontiers, said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named.

With military and diplomatic talks to reduce tensions along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC) deadlocked, India and China are prepared for a long haul in the eastern Ladakh theatre where rival troops are holding towering heights including deployments at an altitude of nearly 20,000 feet in the mountains near Pangong Tso.

The Indian Army has perfected its mountain warfare drills over decades and its soldiers possess the tenacity and resilience to overcome the toughest challenges that extreme altitudes pose, said a second official.

Apart from the tough physical and mental makeup of soldiers, the Indian Army’s demonstrated ability to support frontline military operations with superior logistics, advances in high-altitude medicine, critical understanding of acclimatisation in mountains and air support are factors that put the army in an advantageous position in eastern Ladakh, experts said.

“Conditions at Siachen are infinitely more challenging than eastern Ladakh. The lessons learned in terms of survival, health care, protection from cold injuries and avalanche rescue will be of tremendous help,” said former Northern Army commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda (retd).

The army and air force helicopter pilots are the lifeline of troops deployed at Siachen. “These pilots are very familiar with high-altitude operations and their role in supporting troops in eastern Ladakh will be a great plus for us,” Hooda added.

In eastern Ladakh, Indian soldiers are holding positions at heights of almost 20,000 feet in the Finger Area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso.

The IAF has decades of air maintenance experience in high-altitude areas --- heights in excess of 15,000 feet --- and standard operating procedures are in place to serve as templates for both helicopters and transport aircraft, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies, commenting on the IAF’s role in supporting forward deployed troops in the Ladakh sector. “Hill flying is tricky, and every helipad in the mountains has its own peculiarities. We have a bank of aircrew experienced in such operations. The aircrew is backed up by a dedicated band of technicians who slog continuously to keep helicopters and transport aircraft flying-fit,” Bahadur said.

India is determined to hold forward positions in Ladakh till the PLA withdraws and restores status quo ante of early April. With no solution to the border row in sight, the Indian Army has completed the setting up of modern habitat for thousands of soldiers deployed in forward areas to deal with any misadventure by the PLA.

Temperatures in some pockets where the Indian Army is holding posts can dip to minus-40 degrees Celsius.

At the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit on November 26 in the backdrop of the persisting stalemate at LAC, defence minister Rajnath Singh said that India would not allow the PLA to take any unilateral action at the contested border and the government had given full freedom to its armed forces to challenge, with all their might, any attempt to change the situation along the LAC in any manner.

The Chinese military is grappling with the difficulties of mobilising and deploying tens of thousands of troops during the harsh winter --- something that it hasn’t done in the past, officials previously told HT.

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