Troops prepare to dig in for winter amid standoff
The efforts to ferry thousands of tonnes of supplies for troops deployed along the LAC have acquired urgency as road connectivity is expected to be reduced significantly once weather conditions worsen by the end of September.Updated: Sep 17, 2020 06:21 IST
The Indian military has ramped up efforts to move equipment and supplies such as winter clothing and mountaineering gear to forward locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Ladakh sector as troops prepare to dig in for the winter amid the standoff with China.
The efforts to ferry thousands of tonnes of supplies for troops deployed along the LAC have acquired urgency as road connectivity is expected to be reduced significantly once weather conditions worsen by the end of September. As temperatures plummet and snowfall begins, most roads will be closed and forward army posts will be completely dependent on supplies brought in by helicopters and mules.
Airlift: The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) massive C-17 Globemaster and Il-76 heavy lift aircraft have been making sorties to the airfield at Leh, located at a height of more than 10,500 feet, bringing in more troops, equipment and supplies.
Though the C-17 can carry a maximum payload of up to 77 tonnes and the Il-76 about 40 tonnes, the aircraft have to operate with lower payloads at airfields such as the one at Leh because of the rarified atmosphere, people familiar with developments said.
Also read: Army digs in for a long winter at LAC
Helicopters: The IAF and the army are using helicopters such as the Chinook, which has a payload of about 10 tonnes but again has to operate with a smaller cargo at such high altitudes, and the home-grown Dhruv to ferry supplies from Leh to forward positions along the LAC at altitudes of 15,000 to 16,000 feet.
The final five of 15 Chinooks ordered by India from the US were delivered just before the Covid-19 lockdown in March and are now playing a key role in ferrying troops and gear to forward locations.
Footage aired on television news channels on Wednesday showed soldiers forming human chains to move supplies from the heavy lift aircraft to the Chinooks so that they could be speedily moved to troops deployed on the LAC. Light helicopters such as the Dhruv can also be used for evacuating personnel in medical emergencies.
Army convoys: Footage shared on social media on Wednesday showed long convoys of army trucks ferrying fuel and other supplies to posts along the LAC. Since snow blocks mountain passes into the Ladakh region for at least four months during winter, Indian military planners have moved more than 150,000 tonnes of materials into the region, Reuters reported.
“All the supplies that we need have already been pushed to wherever they are required,” said Maj Gen Arvind Kapoor, chief of staff of the Indian Army’s 14 Corps.
The supplies: Among the equipment being moved to Ladakh sector are winter clothing, snow boots, mountaineering equipment, special tents, sleeping bags, heaters, fuel and high-calorie rations.
The people cited above said efforts are underway to ensure there are adequate stocks of such essential equipment and gear for several months at logistics depots at places such as Leh, from where they can be rapidly moved by helicopters and army convoys to forward locations according to the needs on the ground.
With temperatures expected to plunge as low as minus 40 degrees to minus 50 degrees Celsius during winter and wind speeds of more than 40 kmph at high altitudes, the tents and double-layered sleeping bags will play a key role in forward locations. The equipment displayed for reporters at Leh included lightweight winter clothing made of synthetic materials with three layers of protection, insulated snow boots and mountaineering gear.
At a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Leh, a hillside was covered with clusters of green drums, according to Reuters. The fuel is needed for both vehicles and heating equipment. At storage facilities at another supply depot, boxes of rations, including pistachios, instant noodles and curries, stood in large piles.
Though the high altitudes often play havoc with appetites, experts believe soldiers need to consume at least 4,000 calories each day to function efficiently.