A grey IAF CH-47 Chinook begins taxiing down the runway at Leh’s Khushu Rimpoche airport, its distinctive twin rotors furiously chopping through the thin mountain air to generate lift.

列城的Khushu Rimpoche机场,一架灰色的印度空军CH-47支奴干飞机开始沿着跑道降落,其独特的双旋翼在稀薄的山间空气中猛烈地旋转以产生升力。

Inside the belly of this US-built chopper are neatly packed cardboard cartons of high-altitude clothing, winter boots, canned tuna in oil and special chocolate milk that ground crew has offloaded from another American workhorse, a Boeing C-17 heavy lifter that flew in from Chandigarh. The recipients, thousands of Indian soldiers parcelled out on posts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in eastern Ladakh to face off with the PLA. This is the closest the two armies have been to a military confrontation in over three decades. With the standoff entering its fifth month with no détente in sight, the focus has now shifted towards logistics, ensuring that over 40,000 freshly transferred soldiers are fed, clothed and sheltered through the approaching winter. Leh, the capital of the newly established Ladakh unx territory, is the fulcrum of a colossal military effort.


The Kushok Bakula Rimpoche Airport is one span of an air bridge stretching 700 km south into the Indian hinterland. Flights of Soviet-built IL-76s and US-built C-17s fly nonstop daily sorties from Chandigarh to here ferrying essential supplies. From here, the cargo is offloaded into helicopters and flown or trucked to the army’s forward posts. This logistical exercise unfolds under a military sky ballet that begins unfailingly at the break of dawn, MiG-29s, Sukhoi Su-30s and Mirage-2000s from bases across north India pinwheel around the azure blue skies in combat air patrols and Apache helicopter gunships clatter around the airport like angry dragonflies.

Kushok Bakula Rimpoche机场是一座向南延伸700公里进入印度腹地的空中桥梁的一跨。苏制的伊尔-76和美制的C-17每天不间断的从昌迪加尔飞到这里运送必需品。从这里,货物被卸到直升机上,然后通过空运或以卡车运到军队的前沿阵地。这场后勤演习是在一场军事空中芭蕾的指挥下展开的,它在黎明时分就开始了,来自印度北部基地的米格-29、苏霍伊苏-30和幻影-2000在湛蓝的天空上盘旋,阿帕奇武装直升机像愤怒的蜻蜓一样在机场周围轰鸣。

Taped on the cockpit door of an Army Aviation Corps Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter is a small sign that is a grim reminder that military logistics isn’t cheap: ‘Flying cost, Rs 7,17,000 per hour.’


‘Enhanced winter stocking’ or EWS as the army calls it, stockpiles food and fuel to last the military garrison through the winter when snowfall blocks the only two road routes into the region, the Srinagar-Leh national highway and the Manali-Leh road which is open between May and September. But this year clearly, it is EWS-plus, the army has to cater for the food, clothing, shelter and equipment for another corps-sized formation it inducted into the theatre beginning June this year. The Chinese have an equal number across on the Tibetan plateau. In sheer numbers alone, these deployments by the two Asian giants are possibly the largest high-altitude massing of troops in the history of military standoffs.


Two rounds of high-level talks, between foreign minister S. Jaishankar and his counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on September 4, and between defence minister Rajnath Singh and Chinese defence minister General Wei Fenghe, have failed to resolve matters to any satisfaction. In a dozen rounds of talks at the military, diplomatic and NSA level, India had asked for the Chinese to restore the LAC to what it was before April 2020; that is, sending the PLA back to its barracks in Xinjiang Military District and restoring ‘status quo ante’. The Latin phrase has since been missing in the statements issued after these two rounds of talks. In a strongly worded statement in Parliam-ent on September 15, defence minister Rajnath Singh squarely blamed China for violating multiple agreements by amassing troops on the border. “In the recent incidents, the violent conduct of Chinese forces has been in complete violation of all mutually agreed norms,” he said.


On ground zero in eastern Ladakh, both sides have settled down to a tense game of high-altitude ‘chicken’, the side which pulls back first, loses. The Chinese have refused to withdraw eight km behind Finger 4 on the Pangong lake and two km behind the Gogra Post in northern Ladakh. The Indian army is atop the hills of an erstwhile No Man’s Land in the Chushul sub-sector south of Pangong lake and on heights facing the Chinese positions north of the lake. Logistic tails, ferrying men, supplies and materiel to sustain the frontline, have begun snaking behind the two deployments as a brutal Himalayan winter approaches.


The Logistics Tail


By the end of September, winter will set in over India’s largest high altitude cold desert, Ladakh. The skies become overcast, icy skin-lacerating winds whip around the barren landscape, temperatures dip to as low as 40 degrees below zero and the snow piles up to 40 feet. Fresh eggs, juices and vegetable oil flown in by the air bridge from Chandigarh turn to stone by the time they reach the forward posts.


In a picturesque valley overlooking Leh, a signboard welcomes you to ‘The Scattered Tanks’, the world’s highest FOL depot. The air is thick with the smell of fuel. There are thousands of green drums and jerrycans for as far as the eye can see. An army officer stands on a giant concrete tank with metal hatches that holds 400,000 litres of diesel, enough to fill half an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and explains how the lifeblood travels around the sector. A row of civilian tankers empty their tanks into this underground reservoir. From here it is decanted into barrels and fuel tankers, a process known as ‘bulk breaking’, and trucked to the posts along the LAC. Giant convoys of military trucks, each carrying 12,000 litres of fuel, radiate out of Leh.


“We’ve learned a lot over the past three decades...the glacier (Siachen) taught us so much,” says Lt Gen. Rakesh Sharma, former GoC of the 14 Corps. The key to ensuring that troops can sustain themselves through the winter is logistics. “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics,” as US Marine Corp’s Gen. Robert H. Barrow noted four decades ago. These could well be the motto of the professionals in the army’s Directorate General of Operational Logistics and Strategic Movement (DGOL&SM) in South Block which is coordinating this massive movement of men and materiel. The army has had three decades of experience in setting up the infrastructure to battle the cold in Siachen, where conditions are far more demanding that the frontier with China. It will need time and resources to create the same all along the LAC.


It costs the Indian Army Rs 5 crore a day to maintain a brigade of troops, over 3,000 soldiers, on the Siachen glacier. There are no estimates as to what the new LAC deployments will cost, but it will be substantial. This does not count the significant cost of the air bridge, the transport aircraft and helicopters that ferry supplies to its far-flung winter posts and the wear and tear on equipment and machinery. The Border Roads Organisation, the MoD’s military infrastructure-building agency, has been tasked with ensuring the Srinagar-Leh route stays open for as long as possible this year. This involves widening the existing road and procuring additional snow clearing equipment to clear the Zojila Pass leading into Leh.


“I talked to officers, JCOs (Junior Commissioned Officers) and took stock of preparedness. I took a first-hand look of the situation on the ground. The morale of the jawans is high and they are ready to deal with all challenges,” army chief Gen. M.M. Naravane told news agency ANI after touring units across Ladakh on September 4, just days after the Indian special forces were ensconced on the hill features. The move forward has brought troops on both sides within hundreds of metres of each other and, potentially, closer to confrontation than ever before. The army’s amended rules of engagement (RoE) after the June 15 clash in which 20 Indian soldiers and an unnamed number of Chinese soldiers died, now, reportedly, authorises troops to open fire in case of any provocation.

“我与军官、低级军官交谈过,评估了准备情况。我亲眼目睹了当地的局势,士兵们士气高昂,准备好应对所有挑战,”印度陆军参谋长M.M. Naravane上将在9月4日视察了拉达克的部队后告诉印度通讯社。就在几天前,印度特种部队已经驻扎在了那些山上。这一行动使双方的军队距离彼此只有几百米,而且可能比以往任何时候都更接近对抗。在6月15日的冲突中,20名印度士兵和一名未透露姓名的...死亡。据报道,之后军队修改了交战规则,现在授权军队在任何挑衅行为中开火。

The task will be to ensure these soldiers sitting on exposed hilltops are protected from the elements at all times. A military surgeon points to three challenges in ensuring medical care for frontline soldiers, the sheer number of troops brought in by the rapid deployment, the vagaries of the high altitudes and the absence of fixed infrastructure in the forward areas.


There are unnerving parallels between events in the run-up to the 1962 border conflict fought between October and November that year and what is currently playing out on the LAC. The casus belli for the 1962 war was the Indian government’s ‘Forward Policy’ which saw penny packets of soldiers asked to occupy posts along the LAC, some of them still in summer uniforms and no boots.


Over the past four months, army off-icials say the Northern Command has stocked up special fuel and lubricants for tanks and armored personnel carriers and spares for maintenance. It has established water points and tube wells for troops. Warm living barracks have been prepared with facilities like central heating systems. Various types of ammunition, including small arms, missiles and for tank and artillery have been stocked and the medical system has also been prepared for any eventuality.


The PLA, meanwhile, has created its own infrastructure along the Western Highway where it is deployed. Infrastructure, including pre-fabricated shelters, are being set up at a relentless pace to prepare for a sustained deployment through the winter. Analysts believe both the divisions of the Xinjiang Military District will continue to remain forward deployed along the LAC. This, even as the PLA steps up its propaganda offensive to get India to back down from the heights.


Military analysts point to ties bet-w-een the two sides going into a deep freeze unless the border issue is demarcated. “Militarily, we must remain alx and prepare ourselves to spend the winter of 2020/21 on the LAC,” says Lt Gen. Vinay Shankar, former director-general artillery, and a veteran of the 1962 war with China. “This ought to give sufficient time to the diplomats and the political leadership to arrive at a settlement or figure out the contours of our future relationship.”

军事分析人士指出,除非边界问题得到解决,否则双方的关系将陷入深度冻结。“在军事上,我们必须保持警惕,为在实控线度过2020/21年冬季做好准备,”曾参加1962年中印战争的前炮兵总干事维奈·尚卡尔中将(Vinay Shankar)表示。“这应该能给外交官和政治领导人足够的时间来达成一项解决方案,或者规划出我们未来关系的轮廓。”