By Devjyot Ghoshal
LEH, India, Sept. 15 (Reuters) – From the deployment of mules to the large transport plane, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to carry supplies to thousands of soldiers for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China.
In recent months, one of India’s largest military logistics exercises in years has brought large amounts of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food to Ladakh, a border region Tibet which India administers as union territory, officials said.
The move was sparked by a border standoff with China in the snowy deserts of Ladakh that began in May and turned into hand-to-hand combat in June. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed while China suffered an undisclosed number of casualties.
The two countries are negotiating to resolve the confrontation, but neither side has backed down. The Indian Army is now ready to keep troops deployed along the perilous border at high altitude during the winter.
Eastern Ladakh, where the push occurred, is typically comprised of 20,000 to 30,000 troops. But the deployment has more than doubled with the tensions, a military official said, declining to provide exact figures.
“We have reflected the increase in Chinese troops,” the official said, adding that the Indian army was well prepared but did not want further escalation or protracted conflict.
Temperatures in Ladakh can drop well below freezing, and troops are often deployed at altitudes above 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.
Since snow has blocked the mountain entering Ladakh for at least four months every winter, Indian military planners have already transported more than 150,000 tonnes of materials to the region.
“All the supplies we need have already been delivered to where they are needed,” said Major General Arvind Kapoor, Chief of Staff of the 14th Corps of the Indian Army.
FERRYING TO THE FRONTLINE
On Tuesday morning, a succession of large Indian Air Force transport planes landed on a forward base in Ladakh, carrying men and equipment, as fighter jets roared above their heads.
Soldiers with backpacks ran out and were checked for symptoms of COVID-19 at a transit facility, where they were awaiting additional transport.
The materials are stored in a network of logistics centers.
In a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Leh, the main city of Ladakh, a hill was covered in clusters of green drums.
In storage facilities at a nearby supply depot, boxes and bags of rations – including pistachios, instant noodles and Indian curries – were in large piles. At another base near Leh, tents, heaters, winter clothing, and high altitude gear were stacked.
From those depots, materials are being pushed to logistics nodes by trucks, helicopters and, in some particularly difficult parts, mules, officials said.
“In a place like Ladakh, the logistics of operations are of paramount importance,” Kapoor said. “Over the past 20 years we have mastered it.”