New Delhi: The life of a soldier in harsh conditions is something we know little about from the civil side of the street. The close actuality we claim to know of our Army is that of a battle-hardened force that stands tall and firm with the advent of winter every year, securing our borders from any perceived threats at the highest battlefields within the territory of India, be it the contended Siachen Glacier or Ladakh which has been in the national news for quite some time now. Even if there was no border stand-off between China’s PLA and the Indian Army, each year it takes a lot for our troops to keep themselves fully prepared for the harsh winter conditions.
Yes, this year it has come to our notice because the Indian government has never deployed such large forces (Army, Air Force, and paramilitary) in the Ladakh region. In the coming months, road facilities will be a challenge in the Ladakh region, hence, the need for winter stocks is huge among people there, be it civilian or military forces. But, the problem will be ironed out by the redeemer – our air warriors. The IAF and Army Aviation Corps will fulfill the requirement for essential daily supplies and movement of troops as and when required.
As reported by many, temperatures in the higher reaches of Ladakh have already started dipping below -5 degrees Celsius. The Army is in full swing procuring tents, fiberglass huts, and special winter clothing for the troops. The harsh winter should not be of paramount concern for any neighboring nation as they are already aware of many corps from the Indian Army specialised in mountain warfare. Some of them are even hush hush in terms of their exposure in any public domain.
So, it is ideal for the neighboring nations to know that winter is coming but at least they would know what snow could be there underneath. It is better to be realistic, so to understand the challenges (if any) realistically, before we move to ponder the Indian Army’s preparation.
The challenge this year is expected to be very different from what Indian soldiers have faced in previous years. But that does not mean the troops would be in a position of disadvantage as far as their operational readiness is concerned.
Usually, the Indian Armed Forces are stationed at the bases and return there after patrolling the LAC. This year, however, many troops have been deployed in some overhead shelters on the LAC where no one has stayed since 1962. So, that is an unknown terrain. But that is where their year-long training and experience will help them face the challenge.
Challenges like limited road infrastructure and lack of drinking water and medical facilities can easily be ruled out with the help of aerial supports. Yes, if mother nature turns harsh this year there are chances of frozen injuries and diseases like hypothermia. But that is not certain and can equally impact any opponent out there as well.
Avalanches in eastern Ladakh all through this winter could be a possible challenge along the Line of Actual Control. Lack of fresh drinking water will also pose a problem for the troops as rivers freeze and the lake water in the region is not potable. Getting drinking water for the troops and fuel for cooking and to keep them warm, aside from the rations, will be the other logistical challenges in the approaching months.
The wind chill factor at high altitudes lowers the temperature by 1 degree Celsius for every 3 km/h wind speed. In such situations, the installation of a post requires logistic planning to avoid tentage being blown away or huts being blocked by heavy snowfall. Also, it becomes impossible for a Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) to take care of a battalion of about 900 soldiers spread over multiple positions.
Whilst explaining this, Maj. Arun Prakash Ambathy (veteran, Indian Army) said, “Winters is one of our central themes of warfare. What is so unusual about it? All facets of our strategic planning, preparation, training, and administrative deployments are made keeping the adversities in mind. Indian Armed Forces are always winter-ready. We do not need to separately train ourselves to face the winters. On a lighter note, we say to winter 'we are to meet you' and not the other way round.”
Apart from a large number of Indian Air Force transport aircraft, such as the US-built C-17 and C-130J and the Russian-built IL-76, India has deployed more than 6,000 Army trucks to supply fuel and food to Ladakh.
The fuel required for all military equipment in Ladakh, from heaters to tanks, is being transported and stored at designated locations in the area. Each of these dumps has the capacity to store 4 lakh liters of fuel. Over the years, India has built several undisclosed fuel pumps in Ladakh.
A special winter-grade diesel and kerosene, which remains unaffected to -33 ° C, is being stored in Ladakh for use during harsh winters. This special grade of fuel was launched by the Indian Oil Corporation last year.
The Army not only needs to bring fuel and ration to Ladakh and store it, but it also has to distribute it to its posts and camps in the forward areas which is done through aerial routes using Army and Air Force helicopters.
The advanced winter stock for 30,000 troops, amounting to 35,000 tonnes of rations and kerosene, was already reported a couple of months ago. Besides food and kerosene, the troops would need special tents and shelters as well as adequate numbers of extreme cold condition (ECC) clothing.
The Army has stocked high-energy rations and the soldiers have been given special winter clothes and prefabricated tents to survive the winter. The crucial thing to note in all these preparations is that much of the route leading to Ladakh gets snowed-in after October and therefore most of the supplies will have to be brought to the LAC in advance. At the same time, you cannot lose sight of Kargil and the Line of Control and Siachen Glacier. They will also continue to need the supplies to sustain the winter.
During winter, all surface sources of freshwater freezes. The Army has engaged geologists to search for underground sources of water as well. We can say that in summer, the Chinese Army could stay in front of the Indian Army for some time, but if we talk about winter, we do not think the Chinese will be able to stay in front of the Indian Army much longer. Every conquest needs preparation, and it seems the Indian Army, with its glorious lineage, is quite prepared.
Furthermore, increased importance has always been placed on the mental health of our Indian warriors. Not only is it a measure of overall fitness but also a measure of overall health. The Indian soldiers are skilled at training their mind and their body to obtain the dexterity needed to deal with the psychological pressures in any adverse conditions.
Mental toughness and resilience are tremendously important for both men and women in the Indian Armed Forces and that is what makes them ever ready to succeed under stressful situations. The mental toughness of a soldier is an attitude and self- esteem and nothing less.
(The writer is a Delhi-based independent contributor to print and online publications. He is a DCC qualified Defence beat writer)