The Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops before the harsh winter along the fiercely contested Himalayan border with China, while New Delhi has blamed Beijing for the worst border confrontation in decades.
In recent months, one of India’s largest military logistics exercises in years has brought huge amounts of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food to Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers, officials said.
The move was sparked by a border dispute with China that began in May and escalated into a hand-to-hand fight in June. Twenty Indian soldiers were killed while China suffered undisclosed casualties.
On Tuesday, Indian Defense Minister Rajnat Singh accused China of violating past border agreements and expanding the deployment of troops along the disputed mountain border in the Ladakh region, which was carved by Indian-ruled Kashmir last August.
Singh told parliament that India had informed China through diplomatic channels that “its attempts to unilaterally change the status quo are in violation of bilateral agreements.”
He also said India had counter-deployed along the uneven border and its troops had thwarted “attempts at violation by China”.
Both sides are negotiating to resolve the confrontation, but neither side has backed down. The Indian military is now ready to detain troops stationed on the insidious alpine border in the winter.
East Ladakh, where the explosion took place, is usually served by 20,000-30,000 troops. But deployment has more than doubled the tension, a military official said, declining to provide an exact number.
“We have reflected the increase in Chinese troops,” the official said, adding that the Indian military is well prepared but does not want further escalation or protracted conflict.
Temperatures in Ladakh can drop well below zero and troops are often stationed at altitudes above 15,000 feet, where oxygen is scarce, officials said.
As the snow blocks pass into Ladakh for at least four months each winter, Indian military organizers have already moved more than 150,000 tonnes of material into the region.
“All the supplies we need have already been pushed wherever they are needed,” said Major General Arwind Kapoor, chief of staff of the 14th Corps of the Indian Army.
On Tuesday morning, a series of large Indian Air Force transport planes landed at the front base in Ladakh, carrying people and materials as fighter planes roared over them.
Soldiers with backpacks leaked and were checked for symptoms of COVID-19 at a transit facility where they were awaiting further transport.
The materials are stored in a network of logistics centers.
In a fuel, oil and lubricant depot near Lech, the capital of Ladakh, a hill was covered with clumps of green drums.
In storage facilities at a nearby warehouse, rations and bags of rations — including pistachios, instant noodles, and Indian curries — stood in tall piles. At another base near Lech were tents, heaters, winter clothing, and high-altitude equipment.
From these landfills, materials are pushed to logistics hubs by trucks, helicopters and, in some particularly difficult parts, mules, officials said.
“In a place like Ladakh, operational logistics is of paramount importance,” Kapoor said. “We’ve mastered it for the last 20 years.”
Reinforced border infrastructure projects
Speaking in parliament, Singh also said that New Delhi had doubled its budget for vital roads and bridges along the unbounded border with China in recent years in response to the rapid development of Beijing’s infrastructure.
The defense minister told parliament that China has been building infrastructure in remote mountains for decades and the government is trying to close the gap.
“Our government has also increased the budget for the development of border infrastructure, approximately doubling the previous levels. As a result, more roads and bridges have been completed in the border areas,” he said. He did not provide a figure.
The recent construction of roads and airports in India near the border in the Ladakh region has provoked tensions, the Chinese side said.
Military officials say infrastructure development on both sides of the border has also helped troops mobilize quickly in large numbers and in close proximity to some points in the Ladakh area.
Singh said that in the past, Indian and Chinese troops clashed on the unsettled border, but the scale of troop deployment and the number of disputed areas were much larger than in the past.
“Currently, the Chinese side is mobilizing a large number of troops and weapons under the LAC, as well as in the depths,” he said, listing Gogra, Konga La and the northern and southern shores of Lake Pangong as “friction” points.