The High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) of the Indian Army has recently conducted expeditions on two of the highest peaks of Kashmir Valley–Mount Harmuk and Mount Kolahi — in a span of 20 days , reported ANI.
HAWS is located at an altitude of around 9,000 ft above sea level and trains primarily soldiers for warfare the the highest battlefields of Siachen located around 20,000 ft above sea level. It operates from three different locations in the Kashmir valley and each centre has its specialised training regimen.
The three centres are located at Gulmarg, Sonamarg and Machoi across Zojila. HAWS Gulmarg provides winter warfare training and warfare academic courses. HAWS Sonamarg location is for training soldiers in mountain warfare while the third location is to train for ice craft.
Select candidates are inducted from the Indian Army and the selection is extremely competitive. It was decided in 2004 to turn specialised warfare schools into centres of international excellence. Oft times, the institutes gives assistance to troops of friendly countries on special requests as well.
In 2007, HAWS was used by foreign forces like the British Royal Marines to get acclimatised for warfare in cold dry desert and hilly terrains of Afghanistan. It was established as 19 infantry Division Ski School in 1948 and transformed the next year as Command Establishment — Winter Warfare School. Later in 1962, it was again changed to its current form — a Category A training centre. HAWS is renowned as one of the best schools in warfare academics with special focus on snowcraft and winter warfare.
The training provided by HAWS is distinct from the one provided to commandos. HAWS students are left in snowy wilderness for a period of 72 hours with nothing. The task is survival. Each student is selected from a battalion of 800 soldiers and trained by 50 of the best winter warfare instructors in the world.
HAWS units conduct the most difficult and dangerous rescue operations in the snowy Himalayas. Its avalanche rescue team is one of the best in the world. Its quick reaction mode of functioning allows it to answer calls in emergencies at any time and any place in the country.
In recent incidents, the HAWS avalanche response teams rescued troops at a post in Gulmarg that was hit in February last year. On January 25 this year, multiple avalanches hit the Kashmir valley. HAWS teams put their lives on the line and one member was killed during rescue ops. In that incident, an army camp was hit at Sonamarg in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. The same day, Badoogam village in Tulail area of Gurez was hit as well. At least 15 soldiers died in four days time. However, HAWS team, apart from tending to civilians, rescued at least 14 soldiers from under heavy snow in a matter of 72 hours.
HAWS training comes into help when the soldiers fight the more difficult battle with their minds and bodies. In dropping temperatures, extremely low water supply and dangerous terrains, the conditioning helps save the lives of hundreds of soldiers. The importance of the institute is clear from the fact that it is headed by an Army Officer of a rank not less than Major General.