Comparing the cost of transporting the essential supplies on a truck with that on the aircraft, Major General Singh said that one round trip between Srinagar and Leh on a transport truck which carries 10 tons costs about Rs 1 lakh while one flight of C-17 Globemaster military aircraft costs a whopping Rs 24 lakh.
With three divisions of the army moving up near the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh to keep a watch on the Chinese, the Indian army has started preparations to ensure that the troops, who are going to brave the whole winter season at the high altitude posts, are given all necessary provisions for their upkeep. While the Army officially does not share the specifics of the provisions and logistical arrangements such troop movements entail, the Indian Express talked to some veteran army personnel who served in the region to understand the challenges faced by the troops on the higher altitude and arrangements made thereof.
Average cost incurred for the upkeep of a soldier
Major General A P Singh, who was the head of logistical operations of XIV Corps at the LAC between 2011 and 2013 told the Indian Express that on the high terrain the soldier is fighting against not one but three elements at the same time- the enemy, the weather and his physical health. To the question of an estimated cost incurred by the Army to keep a soldier at such a high altitude, Major General Singh said that on an average Rs 10 lakh a year is spent to keep a soldier at this height. The provisions include food, fuel for warming the shelter of soldiers, clothing, equipment among others. In addition to this, additional costs are incurred for some sensitive untold needs which are not disclosed by the Army because of their sensitive nature.
How are the supplies carried to the forward posts?
Transportation of the supplies to the higher altitude posts poses one of the biggest challenges to the Indian Army as the road routes remain closed from the start of November to March-April due to excessive snow. Both the land routes to Ladakh from Srinagar and Himchal – Rohtang Pass and Zoji La remain shut throughout the winter season. However, the army is placing its bet on the Rohtang tunnel which might get open by the end of the year.
Comparing the cost of transporting the essential supplies on a truck with that on the aircraft, Major General Singh said that one round trip between Srinagar and Leh on a transport truck which carries 10 tons costs about Rs 1 lakh while one flight of C-17 Globemaster military aircraft costs a whopping Rs 24 lakh. The capacity of the aircraft is five times that of the truck but the cost is about 24 times higher which poses huge financial constraints in transporting the supplies on the aircraft.
Mindful of the astronomical cost of sending the supplies to the posts on the aircrafts, the Army begins the process of Advance Winter Stocking from the month of April-May with the help of trucks so that it does not have to resort to the aircrafts except for emergency purposes. Major General Singh said during normal circumstances, the XIV Corps stock a reserve of about 2 lakh tonnes of supplies including food, equipment etcetera which could easily last for the 6-7 winter months. However, with the positioning of additional troops on the LAC, the post would need about 3 lakh tonnes of supply this time, he added. With the winters approaching close, the Army might need to resort to the use of the aircraft to stock the additional provisions.
Sending the supplies to Leh is not the end of the tunnel as more than 70 per cent of the supplies are to be climbed up further on higher posts like Kargil and Siachen. Before the arrival of the winter months, the Army ensures that all the supplies have been stocked up at the forward posts with the help of local people and mules as terrain becomes dangerous for the trucks higher up. The locals along with their mules walk upto 20 kilometre on a round trip to ensure that the posts are stocked with the essential supplies.
What special equipment do Army personnel need?
Special equipment which could keep the body of personnel warm are procured by the Indian Army for such high altitude regions. Major General Singh said that most of the additional troops positioned at the LAC would spend their first winter on the post and might face hardships in adapting to the climate and requiring to be battle ready at the same time. The Special Clothing and Mountaineering Equipment (SCME) procured by the Army includes ropes, special helmets, snow boots, jackets among others. Each soldier is issued two pairs of each of the equipment which roughly costs about Rs 4 lakh, Major General Singh said.
What other major challenges are before the Army?
With few months left before the onset of winters, the Army has got an uphill task of transporting the additional provisions and supplies for the additional troops in time. In addition to the supplies for the soldiers, the Army also has to stock enough material for the infrastructure work going on at the forward areas including the Durbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road.
With the number of soldiers doubling at the LAC, the heat proof shelters will also need to be built for the additional soldiers. Major General Singh said that soldiers will at least need shelters which can withstand the weather at -20 degree celsius and lots of stuff will need to be sent to the posts as early as by the end of August because the cement does not set after the month of September.