“Amateurs discuss strategy. Professionals talk logistics.” That well-worn military saying is playing out for the Army on the disputed Line of Actual Control in Ladakh where it prepares itself for a long-haul deployment against the Chinese army.
A decision will have to be taken by the Army within the next six weeks on the number of troops that can be supported logistically in the remote area during the winter months by the military supply chain.
The Army is reported to have nearly three division-strength of troops in the sector, with two divisions coming from outside the theatre.
One of these divisions, which did not have a designated operational role in the area, is likely to be logistically more constrained. The situation is likely to be similar for other additional units rushed to Ladakh from the plains over the past two months.
Logistics support for additional troops deployed on the LAC, if they continue to remain in location through the winter, is assessed to stretch the Army’s lengthy supply chain for the remote mountainous terrain.
The constraints of logistics could also end up dictating the number of additional troops which can remain deployed for the ‘long haul’ in Ladakh.
A military officer, who has been in-charge of logistics for the Northern Command, told The Sunday Express that “if additional troops have to be deployed and be in a higher state of readiness over the winters, logistics support is going to be a challenge – from procurement to getting the supplies to soldiers at the place where they are deployed. Routine maintenance for existing troop levels is not an issue but assessments would have already begun, and a final call will have to be taken in the next six weeks to act before the passes close and the roads are cut off.”
The logistics supplies for troops are provided by the Army through Advanced Winter Stocking (AWS) which takes place through the summer months. Supplies are transported via two routes – over the Zoji La from Srinagar to Leh; and, via the Manali route. While the Zoji La route has a turnaround time of two weeks, it is 17-18 days for the Manali axis.
Both these routes close by early December due to snowfall but the Army attempts to complete the movement of logistics convoys by early November for any contingency. It is based on the logistics calculations that pulling out of certain non-essential troops during the winter months could be considered by the Army.
Unlike Siachen or Dras, eastern Ladakh receives low volumes of snowfall which lets local roads remain open even during the winter months, while the flat nature of terrain makes creation of helipads easier. This makes internal movement unhindered but with hardly any local produce or industry in Ladakh, all supplies and stores have to be brought in from outside the region.
“The process starts with procurement for which contracts are signed in March every year. New contracts will have to be signed now and more transport, vehicles, stocking resources will have to be arranged. Routine maintenance is feasible till the passes are open. The big challenge is ramping up the air effort which is limited by the constraints of the Leh airbase due to altitude and weather,” the officer said.
Aircraft cannot take off from Leh with full load once the temperature goes above a certain limit, which makes pre-noon as the cutoff for return flights during summers. The American C-130J aircraft are much better in that respect, but the vintage Russian IL-76 transport aircraft are severely limited.
Besides supplies, the other challenge is providing special clothing for high-altitude areas where temperatures can go down to minus 25 degrees. Another officer said certain units, moved from the plains to Ladakh in the last six weeks, are being supplied from surplus stocks held in the area while reserve stocks from depots have also been moved forward.
The habitat for additional troops, the officer said, is currently not a constraint as they can use normal tents in many locations until September. By then, adequate numbers of snow or Arctic tents will be provided to soldiers for the winter, the officer said, adding that creation of semi-permanent habitat is not under consideration at this stage.
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