NEW DELHI — India is working overtime to better support its troops as they manage the border dispute with China, but rising operational costs remain a challenge.
The Indian Army “is gearing up for sizable troops, weaponry and support equipment deployment alongside the Line of Actual Control, or LAC, in the eastern Ladakh this winter to counter the presence of People’s Liberation Army troops,” a senior service official said.
The border between India and China is about 2,520 miles long and mostly involves mountainous terrain; that LAC is neither marked on the ground nor on mutually acceptable maps.
Indian troops are well equipped for the long haul along the LAC, even though costs are enormous, the official added.
At a public function in October, Indian Army chief Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane said “the military buildup by China in the eastern Ladakh region and new infrastructure development to sustain the large-scale deployment are matters of concern.” If the Chinese military continues with its deployment, the general added, the Indian Army will maintain its regional presence.
The Army already deployed 50,000 troops as well as artillery guns, main battle tanks, Akash air defense systems, quick-reaction surface-to-air missile systems, Igla-S air defense systems, Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launchers, and infantry-combat and high-mobility vehicles.
Another Army official told Defense News that a plan is in place to provide weapons maintenance and support equipment to Indian forces along the border. But it’s the extremely cold climate that has the military concerned. The Army will spend about $15,000 on each soldier from October to March, the service official added.
Military logistics expert and retired Maj. Gen. Amrit Pal Singh said the Army is preparing winter supplies, including rations, engineering and medical provisions, weapons, ammunition and equipment, clothing, and climate-appropriate vehicles.
Singh noted that a stockpile of 80 items for each soldier is required, including vast amounts of kerosene, diesel and petrol, which provide heat for troops and fuel for vehicles. About half a million tons of supplies are needed during the entire winter for the border-based force.
Singh estimated that about 10 tons of supplies delivered by truck costs roughly $1,500, whereas a one-hour flight of a C-17 aircraft carrying 50 tons costs about $345,000. Service officials said the Indian Army has spent about $100 million to establish several hundred camps with adequate electricity, water, heating and other facilities; some of those camps are based near the border across the eastern Ladakh region.
Still, officials conceded they must do more to beef up infrastructure by building additional huts, bunkers and storage facilities for ammunition, weapons and vehicles.
The state-owned Border Roads Organisation was tasked seven years ago with building more than 60 strategic border roads near the border with China. Thirty-five strategic roads are already fully operational, a Defence Ministry official confirmed.
Indian military officials also said the Army is bolstering its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities by inducting surveillance and tactical drones, long-range reconnaissance observation systems, battlefield surveillance radars, new military and low-Earth observation satellites aimed at keeping a watchful eye on China.
”India will be spending around $500 million in the next one to two years to shore up these capabilities,” officials remarked.
China claims nearly 36,000 square miles of territory also claimed by India. The two countries fought a brief battle in 1962 over a boundary dispute, but it remains unresolved despite several bilateral diplomatic and military-to-military negotiations.
Vivek Raghuvanshi is the India correspondent for Defense News.