India’s readiness to sustain the enhanced troop deployment of nearly 50,000 in Ladakh amid the seven-month-long military tussle in harsh winters at heights more than 14,000 feet has prompted China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to procure high-altitude gear and clothing at the eleventh hour.
Not expecting India to continue occupying heights in the peak winter at friction points where temperatures have already started to dip below minus 20 degrees, the Chinese army was caught unawares and brought in additional logistics last month to match the Indian deployment.
“The temperature and wind chill factor have begun to be a challenge. The temperature will dip to 40-50 degrees below zero through the winter,” said an official.
Initially, the Chinese had bulk winter clothing meant for 9,000-10,000 feet but with no disengagement taking place and the standoff continuing at heights more than 15,000 feet, China realised they need to be well-stocked.
“They were probably not expecting Indian troops to stay put at the contested points. To their surprise, we maintain our deployment and intend to do so through the winter,” says another official in the security establishment.
With temperatures dropping to -20 degrees and set to dip even further, both sides have made arrangements to continue with an enhanced deployment during the peak winter.
Sources said the PLA Joint Logistics Support Force (JLSF) has constituted a Quality Supervision Team for emergency procurement of extreme cold climate clothing. This team has now been tasked to ensure good quality clothing and fast delivery to forwarding area troops.
At nearly 14,000, the Pangong Lake, where the confrontation continues with thousands of troops in close proximity backed by artillery guns, tanks and armoured vehicles on both sides, has started to freeze. Heights around the lake, both on the North and South banks, have not been left unoccupied even as the temperature plunges.
At the end of September, the Indian Army had taken control of heights on the southern side, irking China.
RESPONSE TO INDIA’S PREPARATIONS FOR THE WINTER
In October, India made an urgent purchase of additional high-altitude winter clothing from the US keeping in mind the needs of enhanced troop deployment in Ladakh in peak winter amid the military tussle with China.
The winter kit given to each soldier consists of three-layered clothing that includes special jackets and trousers with a glacier poncho worn to brave out the wind chill factor. Goggles, face masks, gloves, snow boots with a thick woollen lining, woollen socks and caps fully covering the head and ears also form the part of the essential gear.
A rucksack with a straw attached to a bottle that keeps the water warm and special sleeping bags are also included in this kit.
The items have been purchased under the Logistics Exchange Memorandum Of Agreement (LEMOA) between India and the US that facilitates logistical support, supplies and services between the armed forces of the two countries. These include clothing, food, lubricants, spare parts, medical services among other essentials.
The Indian Army started a massive exercise in September for stocking of essentials supplies like ration, winter clothing, high-altitude tents and fuel as it got ready for the long haul in Ladakh, foreseeing the need for extra deployment in the unforgiving winter.
In order to ensure operational efficiency of troops deployed in winters, Indian Army has completed the establishment of habitat facilities for all troops deployed in the sector, army sources said.
The living accommodation that will protect the troops from the severe cold and wind chill factor includes fast erectable modular shelters.
Besides the smart camps with integrated facilities which have been built over the years, an additional state-of-the-art habitat with integrated arrangements for electricity, water, heating facilities, health and hygiene have been recently created to accommodate the troops.
China has also made arrangements for accommodation, including special tents for its troops. Of late, they are also making attempts to rotate their troops from the forward locations to keep them fresh and avoid winter casualty. China has started setting up recreation units comprising fitness centre and library, and it is also trying to ensure that the morale of troops doesn’t hit a low as they are not used to a permanent deployment at such heights in the winter.
As part of operations to enhance supplies, the Indian Air Force’s transport aircraft flew regular sorties to the Leh airbase bringing in troops and essential supplies that were sent to forward locations.
Tents and shelters that can withstand temperatures dipping to minus 50 degrees were also among the material sent to troops before the winter set in.
Heavy snow cuts off roads to forward locations, making transportation impossible and snapping supply lines.
DIALOGUE STUCK IN STALEMATE
There have been eight rounds of military talks at the Corps Commander level to find a solution to the standoff that started early May but the deadlock continues.
Despite the previous talks on November 6 discussing a disengagement plan, there has been no forward movement and no further dialogue has taken place to implement measures discussed to ease out tensions.
This is not the first time such proposals for reducing tensions have been made. “Nothing has still changed on the ground yet. These are proposals made from both sides where there is at least some common ground but there is no agreement on anything yet,” said an official.
There was a staggering disengagement planned earlier soon after the Galwan clash on the 15 June where 20 Indian Army soldiers including a commanding officer Colonel B Santosh Babu were killed in a violent face-off with Chinese troops. The plan did not fructify as China was adamant on not leaving for Finger 4 area of Pangong Lake.
Earlier, in July there were some signs of thaw as both armies made a slight retreat in Pangong Lake after the initial disengagement in Galwan, Gogra and Hot Springs area but there was no final breakthrough to restore status quo as has been India’s stand.