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 as a battle-hardened force that stands tall and firm with the advent of winters every year securing our borders from any perceived threats at the highest of the highest battlefields within the territory of India.
Be it the contended Siachen Glacier, or Ladakh which has been there in the national news for quite some time now. Even if the border stand-off was not there with China’s PLA and Indian Army, it takes enough for our troops to keep themselves fully prepared for the harsh winter conditions annually.
Yes, this year it comes to our notice catching the eyeballs because the Indian government has never deployed such large forces (Army, Air Force and Paramilitary Forces) in the Ladakh region like this before.
In the coming months, road facilities will be challenging in the Ladakh region, hence, the need for winter stocking is huge for the humans out there, be it a civilian or the military forces, but it shall iron out with the redeemer – our air warriors. IAF and Army Aviation Corps to fulfill the requirement for essential daily supply and movement of troops as and when required.
As reported by many, temperatures in the higher reaches of Ladakh have already started dipping below minus 5 degrees Celsius, to which the Army is in full swing procuring tents, fibreglass huts and special winter clothing for its troops. And this harshness of winter should not be of paramount concern for any neighbouring nation, as they are already aware of many corps from Indian Army who are specialized in mountain warfare. Some of them are even hushed in terms of their exposure to any public domain.
So, it is ideal for the neighbouring 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 on Indian Army’s preparation.
Is winter challenging?
The challenge is expected to be very distinct from what Indian soldiers have faced in previous years. But that does not mean the troops would stand in a position of a disadvantage as far as their operational readiness is concerned.
In general, the Indian Armed Forces were stationed at the bases and returned after patrolling on the LAC. But this year, many troops have been deployed in some overhead shelters on the LAC, where no one has stayed before since 1962. So, that features in as an unknown terrain, but that is where their yearlong training and experience factors in to withstand a challenge like this.
Challenges like limited road infrastructure, lack of drinking water, lack of medical facilities can easily be ruled out with the help of aerial supports. Yes, if mother nature goes harsh this year more chances of frozen injuries and diseases like hypothermia can be envisaged. But that is not certain and equally impacting for any opponent out there as well.
Avalanche in eastern Ladakh all through this winter could be a possible challenge, along the Line of Actual Control.
Lack of fresh drinking water for the Indian troops, as rivers freeze and the lake water in the region, is not potable. So, 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.
Due to the Low temperatures and 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 tentages being blown or huts being blocked by heavy snowfall. It becomes impossible for a Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) to take care of an entire battalion of about 900 soldiers, which is spread over multiple positions.
Whilst explaining this curiosity, 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 winters that here we are to meet you. Not the climate to us”!
How the Indian Army is preparing?
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 and is being transported to Ladakh and stored at designated locations in the area. Each of these dumps has the capacity to store 4 lakh litres 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 should distribute to its posts and camps in the forward areas which is done through aerial routes using army and air force helicopters.
The advanced winter stocking for 30,000 troops, amounting to 35,000 tonnes of rations and kerosene oil, were already reported back a couple of months ago. Besides food and kerosene oil, the troops would need special tents and shelters, as well as adequate numbers of extreme cold conditional (ECC) clothing.
The army has stocked high-energy rations, and in winter, soldiers have been given special winter clothes and prefabricated tents to survive the winters. 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 in the summer season, the Chinese Army could stay in front of the Indian Army for some time, but if we talk about the winter season, we do not think that the Chinese army 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 rationally prepared.
Furthermore, increased importance has always been placed on mental health for our Indian warriors. Not only is it a measure of overall fitness, but also a measure of overall health. To obtain the dexterity needed to deal with the psychological pressures in any adverse conditions. Indian Army is skilled to train their mind as they do for their physical regime.
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 in India 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)