The Indian Army has time tested procedures and systems in place to ensure that front line troops are never left wanting for any item for whatever the reason.
By Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh (Retd.)
Operational Logistics is a science, it requires the highest calibre of a staff officer who has to painstakingly look into the finest of small print to ensure that the troops are equipped, housed, maintained, well-fed and properly clothed at all times. The permutations and combinations are mind-boggling and there is no room for the slightest amount of error.
In the present context of Eastern Ladakh, logistics, of course, involves not only transporting men and material but thereafter maintaining them in some of the most inhospitable places in the world. Deployment is difficult but sustenance is many times more challenging. At these temperatures and altitudes, there are not only issues of the enemy but also weather and health. Hence, adequate reserves to cater for unforeseen disruptions also need to be catered for at various locations.
The first step, of course, is the induction of men and material. Unfortunately, there are presently only two axes available, one from Jammu, Srinagar, through the Zoji La pass, Kargil and Leh and the other the Pathankot, Manali, road through Rohtang Pass on to Leh. The average turnaround is about ten days. From Leh of, course routes lead to Eastern Ladakh over the Changla Pass.
The other, method is by air and in this case, the aircraft takes off from Chandigarh and land at Leh. The capacity of loads varies depending on the type of aircraft used, whether, IL -76, C-130 or C – 17 and of course the weather.
Induction of troops have their own challenges as you need transit halts en route at various transit camps and acclimatization at various stages depending on where the troops are being deployed. Convoys need to be planned, these involve their security, road space management which is the speed of the convoy, timings, number of vehicles to the kilometre, repairs and recovery en route, and timings of halts and rests. Apart from this, you need to have transit halts en route. All this is being done round the clock in a meticulous manner once the roads open up. Of course with the induction of additional troops and equipment, it only increases in scope and implementation.
As the road space is only open from May to October after which the passes are blocked, movement takes place by a combination of Service and Civil Hired vehicles, with an average load of ten tons per vehicle for the latter. The focus is on carrying out Advance Winter Stocking which is what is presently in progress. All major movement of troops also takes place by road. Beyond Leh, the movement takes place mainly through Service Transport in the form of the ALS or Stallion unless of course, a post is air maintained in which case supplies are dropped by aircraft or by helicopters. The average figures roughly translate into two lakh tons for Advanced Winter Stocking that is without the incremental build-up that we are witnessing hence the number of vehicles and aircraft involved are phenomenal.
To coordinate this move and implement it, the Q Staff at various Headquarters from Army, Command, Corps, Area, Division and Brigade are involved. They have the responsibility of ensuring that the troops occupying the further most locations are well equipped, adequately housed properly clothed and fed and kept warm in the harsh winter. Apart from this, they have to ensure that spares are available.
One of the first things required is habitat; it is no secret that with temperatures plummeting down to minus 40 degrees at night, troops cannot stay in the open. Apart from that is the challenge of lack of local resources for construction, hence, amongst the first things that need to be done on induction is to create adequate habitat be it pitching up special tents, creating defences and construction of shelters, cookhouses and toilets. Tracks need to be improved and routes identified and marked. Engineers are closely involved in carrying out these tasks especially at the level of Headquarters. There, of course, exists a certain amount of defences which already prepared and can house additional troops being inducted but incase unoccupied areas are being held these have to be created.
Apart from that is storage, the vast amount of spares, supplies, ammunition and fuel that has been dumped needs to be stored. You need to have adequate shelters for protecting this from the elements. All this is being coordinated and ensured with the aim being that the turnaround time for the item to reach the further most troops is reduced.
Management of each commodity has its own set of challenges be it ammunition, supplies, fuel or stores. For example, ammunition varies from small arms to tank and artillery ammunition, each having its own weight and rules for carriage and storage. The responsibility, of course, lies with the Army Ordnance Corps (AOC) and this, in turn, is divided into on weapon scale and first line and second line ammunition. Missiles are of course stored and transported as per their own laid down guidelines.
Fuel is a lifeline at these altitudes as this is also used for warming. The scales are laid down and though it is carried up in bulk petroleum vehicles it needs to be stored in barrels and jerricans. The responsibility of supplying petroleum and its products rests with the Army Service Corps (ASC), who are also responsible for supplies. Of course, the types of fuel, oils and lubricants also vary depending on the equipment being used. The spectrum is wide from aviation fuels to kerosene for heating.
Supplies or rations are the next major issue, scales of rations are laid down and there are special food items which are authorized for high altitude areas. Troops have to be given their meals. In some cases hot food is delivered in most cases it is cooked in situ and there are also those troops who survive on tinned food. This includes dry rations such as atta, rice, daal, and sugar to fresh items which include vegetables, meat and milk and then tinned food or tetra packs of milk. The ASC is responsible for these supplies and most of the procurement is done in the plains. Of course in the winter months supply of fresh vegetables gets disrupted for long periods of time.
Apart from the above, clothing is the next major issue. Troops need to be properly clothed to protect them from the elements. The procurement and issue of Extreme Cold Climate Clothing has to be done. This includes sleeping bags, coats, boots, and woollen trousers and of course goggles and gloves. Being exposed to the elements can lead to frostbite and chilblains, hence clothing has been catered for and issued to all troops. The responsibility of clothing lies with the AOC.
Repair and recovery of equipment also forms part of being able to withstand operations in this terrain. Spares need to be catered for and repairs are carried out as far forward as possible to ensure that all equipment is fully serviceable at all times. The responsibility mainly lies with the Electronics & Mechanical Engineers (EME), who establish Repair Posts and Workshops and have the ability to replace tank engines and repair the most sophisticated computers.
In the end what is essential is medical facilities, be it in the form of Medical Aid Posts, Advanced Dressing Stations and of course Field Hospitals. There are medical personnel posted and attached with units and forward posts and there is a system of treatment and evacuation of casualties which is coordinated and controlled by both the Medical Staff and the A Branch at various intermediate headquarters that ensures that all medical requirements are catered for.
The essence of logistics is that whatever is required is made available at the time required, in the quantity required and at the place required. The Indian Army has time tested procedures and systems in place to ensure that front line troops are never left wanting for any item for whatever the reason.
(The author has commanded the prestigious 1 Armoured Division and 18 Cavalry one of the oldest Regiment in the Indian Army. He has been an instructor at Defence Services Staff College several times and has held prestigious staff appointments. Views expressed are personal.)