Rs 350 crore: Cost of winter gear for sustaining Army in Ladakh this year amid border clash

The Indian Army is likely to incur a cost of Rs 350 to Rs 400 crore for providing special winter clothing to over 30,000 troops deployed in eastern Ladakh.

Image credit: India today

The Indian Army will incur an estimated expenditure of Rs 350 to Rs 400 crore for providing basic logistics like special winter clothing to cater to the enhanced deployment of over 30,000 troops in eastern Ladakh as the military tussle with China is likely to continue. The cost per soldier for special equipment to brave the harsh winter is about Rs 1 lakh.

With no breakthrough in site, additional deployment at heights of over 12,000 feet where temperatures can dip to minus 50 degrees is a big challenge in terms of providing logistics to troops. The army is already making arrangements to ensure necessary material is provided in advance to meet the requirements of snow clothing, shelters and food. Sustaining a big deployment in these tough conditions is a task that requires advance planning, officials say.

"Making arrangements for deploying troops at more than 12,000 feet in normal times is a challenge, and in these circumstances, when the numbers are much more the task will be cut out. Arrangements are already in place for sustaining the enhanced deployment for winter," said an official. The winter clothing and gear includes special three-layered jackets and trousers, boots, snow goggles, facemask, rucksacks, among others.

Temperature-controlled special tents and pre-fabricated huts that can maintain the optimum temperature are essential for providing shelter at the freezing heights where oxygen levels are low, are also in Ladakh. Most of the friction points between India and China in Ladakh, like Pangong Tso Lake and Galwan Valley, where the face-offs have happened, are above 14,000 feet.

Special Ration

In the cold desert, a scientifically formulated special diet has to be provided with high nutrient value to balance for the loss of appetite and reduced intake of food, sources said. Rations are accordingly authorised at different scales for all ranks serving at altitude below 9000 feet, between 9000 feet and 12000 feet and above 12000 ft with progressive increments for challenges at higher altitudes.

Ration at these heights also takes into account countering heat and dehydration in the cold desert. The nutrient requirement in a region like Ladakh is influenced by altitude due to hypoxic environment or low oxygen availability due to reduced barometric pressure, extreme cold, low humidity and intense solar radiation.

The energy requirement is more in such high-altitude areas due to 7 to 21% increase in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) during acclimatisation and stay at extreme altitude. While physical activities in inhospitable environment and the weight of cold protective clothing of the individual increase the energy expenditure, loss of appetite leads to weight loss and decreased performance.

Winter war reserves also being built up

Sources say reserves for winter gear are also being built up. Responding to the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) pointing out deficiencies of winter clothing and equipment for high altitude areas, the Army recently informed the Public Accounts Committee saying the shortage in reserves at the Army headquarters does not impact availability of equipment to troops.

The Indian Army stated that the shortages in the stocks that existed for special clothing and mountaineering meant for areas where temperatures dip below minus 20 degrees is now being built up. The army's assertion that there is no shortage of equipment and clothing for troops on the ground is significant as it comes amid the India-China standoff in Ladakh.

With the deadlock continuing, the Indian Army is stocking and preparing for a long winter deployment when the temperatures in some of these areas can dip -30 degrees Celsius to -45 degrees Celsius. In its clarification to a parliamentary panel about the shortage flagged in the CAG report that was tabled in Parliament earlier this year, the army said the report talked only about shortage in reserves at the headquarters and had no bearing on troops deployed in areas at more than 10,000 feet.

It informed the Public Accounts Committee that local purchases are available to meet any eventuality if required. "Discounting reserves, availability of stocks with troops was adequate. Local purchases for urgent requirements are undertaken," the Army stated to the PAC on August 10. Due to the shortage, troops ended up "recycling" snow boots, the CAG had observed in its report for the period between 2015-16 to 2017-18.

The panel was informed that high altitude areas are divided in two categories. Up to 12,000 feet is in the category of extreme cold clothing and for heights beyond that, special clothing and mountaineering equipment are required. Over 3,54,000 troops are deployed up to 12,000 feet and 38,000 at heights above that.

Source: India today