Roads, bridges, food, habitat — how Army is boosting infra to sustain more troops in Ladakh

a group of people in uniform standing in front of a mountain

© Provided by The Print

New Delhi: With no immediate plan to lower the troop strength at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh amid the continuing standoff with China, the Army is working on enhancing its logistics infrastructure to sustain its troops, ThePrint has learnt.

According to defence sources, the plan includes a multi-pronged approach — from working on augmenting the existing road and other infrastructure to planning for sustenance of the thousands of additional troops deployed in the region, including ration, habitat and winter clothing and gears, among others.

This was among the operational issues discussed when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited Ladakh Sunday along with Army chief General M.M. Naravane.

Logistics-related expenditure last year alone had seen around a 46 per cent jump from the allocated amount for 2020-2021 for the entire Northern Command area, sources said.

This is barring certain emergent purchases made from other countries off the shelf, including gloves bought from the US under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Agreement between the two countries.

Logistics-related expenditure such as transportation, stores, works and other miscellaneous expenditure in Ladakh and Jammu & Kashmir went up by around 85 per cent when compared with the estimates of 2019-20, added sources.

Before the military standoff began with China last year, the Army had about 15,000 troops deployed in eastern Ladakh under 14 Corps. After the Galwan clash on 15 June 2020, the Army moved additional divisions in the region.

In May, Army chief General M.M. Naravane said both countries continue to deploy 50,000-60,000 troops each in Ladakh, and the deployment of troops hasn’t fallen despite disengagement in the Pangong Tso area.

ThePrint earlier reported that the force has also implemented key changes in the Order of Battle (ORBAT) to counter the People’s Liberation Army.

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Upgrading transit facilities

A senior defence officer told ThePrint that the transit facilities along both the axes — the Jammu-Srinagar-Zojila axis and the Manali-Rohtang-Leh axis — to reach Leh or Ladakh as well as the transit camps along them are being upgraded to accommodate additional troops and vehicles.

“The two routes of induction along both Zojila and Rohtang passes are being upgraded to increase the road space capacity, thereby permitting additional vehicular movement,” the official said, adding that the passes have been opened this year earlier than usual and will be kept open for a longer period.

Additional roads and bridges are being constructed, the sources said. Eight bridges have been built in Ladakh alone to cater to the operational logistics of the thousands of troops deployed just at the forward posts near LAC.

On Monday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the Kyungam bridge — part of 63 infrastructure projects constructed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) — which has been built on the Indus river on the Leh-Loma axis. The bridge will improve connectivity to southern Ladakh and will aid in additional flexibility to the deployment of troops along the LAC by allowing a faster switching of their locations. A total of 11 bridges were inaugurated in Ladakh alone.

The Border Roads Organisation under the defence ministry is responsible for some of these infrastructure works.

“There is also a push on creation of permanent infrastructure for stationing of troops and storage of equipment such as wherever feasible,” the official added.

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Advanced winter stocking

The advanced winter stocking for the thousands of troops deployed in the region has already begun with an increased dependence on surface transport.

Close to 50,000 ALS loads and CHT (civil hired transport) trucks are being pressed into service to transport 150 lakh tonnes of ration and 1 lakh kilo litres of kerosene oil.

This is for the entire Ladakh region, including troops deployed at the Siachen glacier.

“Additional water storage capacity is being created for the troops and there will be an enhanced helicopter effort for maintenance of isolated posts. Additional funds will be allocated for porters and ponies,” said a second defence official, who didn’t wish to be named.

“Special fuel oil and lubricants are being procured and inducted. Additional spares for a large number of mechanised vehicles and weapon systems are being procured,” the official added.

Last week, ThePrint reported that the Army projected an enhanced annual requirement of 17 types of special clothing and mountaineering equipment for troops deployed in extreme high altitude areas.

According to sources, large procurement of habitat for the troops, such as 300 to 500 fibreglass huts, 1,000-1,200 living and store shelters and 250-300 specialised tentage are ongoing. Close to 10,000 sets of special clothing and boots, and 35,000 sets of extreme cold weather clothing are also being procured.

They added that 800-1000 living shelters and about 2,000 fibreglass huts of different sizes are the total requirement for the sustenance of the troops in that region, some of which were transported last year.

Catering to increased deployment

The turnover of troops also requires a large number of vehicles, which need to be incorporated into planning, a third official said on condition of anonymity.

The official explained that every year at least six to eight units of 14 corps are turned over as part of the field-peace profile. “With an increased deployment in Ladakh, this figure will also go up. Each unit requires approximately 60 ALS for its move, so 500 vehicles will be required for turnover of the troops deployed,” the official said.

“From 1 May to 31 October, there are 184 days, of which 150 days to 160 days are available for the move of vehicles. The turnaround time is approximately six days thereby there is a requirement of close to 300 vehicles per day to be pressed into service,” he said.

An enhanced troop deployment also leads to additional medical challenges. “Hence, work to enhance the medical infrastructure is also being carried out…,” the official said.

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