Indian Army Updates

Why high-altitude warfare is challenging, how soldiers are trained

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Galwan valley, Shyok River

Mains level : Mountain warfare preparedness of India

The violent standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in Galwan Valley of Ladakh region has thrown the spotlight on high-altitude warfare and the challenges that troops face, particularly when advantageous positions on the heights are occupied by the other side.

In the clouds of war, one may recall the huge amount of casualties faced by the Indian Army compared to the Pakistani side (being at advantageous positions) during the Kargil War.

Try this question for mains:

Q. Discuss why high-altitude warfare is challenging. Also discuss about India’s preparedness for a long-term war.

How is high-altitude warfare fought?

  • High-altitude warfare is fought keeping the terrain and weather in mind.
  • The kind of infrastructure and training that the troops require for high-altitude warfare are key factors.
  • The evolution of such warfare goes back a long way: European countries had mountain brigades in view of the kind of terrain prevalent in those countries.
  • The harshness of the terrain calls for a specialised kind of training to prepare soldiers in terms of mindset and acclimatization.

How is India equipped in such warfare?

  • Generally, India is considered a hub of mountain warfare skills since most of the country’s north and northeast requires such skills.
  • Ladakh Scouts are considered the best in this kind of warfare.
  • Mountain chop, a tactic involved in such warfare, evolved in India where the mountainous terrain is very difficult to scale.
  • To begin with, the troops are imparted training in basic and advance training in mountaineering to make them equipped for mountain warfare.

Actual tactics involved

  • The mindsets of the enemy sitting above are assessed. Taking stock of the entire situation, one needs to find out the easiest approaches.
  • Especially when there are vertical cliffs, it is generally perceived that the enemy that has taken defensive positions will be less guarded from the side of difficult approaches.
  • Basically, the most difficult approaches where the enemy is likely to give the least resistance need to be used efficiently.

What are the challenges involved in warfare in a high-altitude place like Galwan Valley?

  • A big factor is who has taken defensive positions and who is sitting on higher ground.
  • Once troops are sitting on high ground, it becomes very difficult to dislodge them from there.
  • In a place like Galwan Valley, which is absolutely barren, there is not much hiding place.
  • The soldier on high ground is absolutely stationary, which makes those on lower terrain easy targets; the enemy can pick them up one by one.
  • Normally in mountain warfare, troops on lower ground use a combat ratio of 1:6, but in circumstances as in Galwan, it may go up to 1:10.

How to approach such situations?

  • Generally, mountain warfare is fought using the period of darkness to reach the opposing army, engage and overpower them before the first light of day.
  • In case troops do not have the capabilities, fitness or strategies to do so before dawn, then it is a lost cause.
  • But without adequate trained troops who are well-versed with the terrain and are properly acclimatized, it is not an easy game.

What are the other challenges faced by soldiers in high altitudes?

  • The first major factor is acclimatization since the oxygen supply reduces drastically.
  • Next, the load-carrying capacity of individuals reduces drastically.
  • Things move very slowly in the mountains and mobilization of troops consumes time.
  • Thus, time and place need to be kept on top priority when deciding where the troops have to be stationed and how they have to be mobilized.

What are the logistical challenges in this kind of warfare?

  • One major challenge is that weapons jam, particularly in high-altitude areas.
  • When a soldier is at a height of 17,000 ft or above, it is very cold, and he needs to grease the weapons and clean the barrels at least once a week to ensure they function efficiently.
  • But at the time of combat, this becomes difficult.
  • Vehicles do not start when fuel jams. If the fuel is diesel, it won’t ignite unless it is mixed with thinners or other chemicals to make them thin enough to fire the engine.

Ensuring proper reinforcement

  • In Galwan, which is an extremely tactical area and strategically important, reinforcement plays a vital role, particularly when the Indian troops are not in a position of advantage.
  • For communication equipment, troops need to carry more batteries because they drain very quickly at high altitude.
  • While a battery tends to last for 24 hours in the plains, it will drain in 1-2 hours in these severely cold areas.
  • Transport animals such as mules need to be used to maintain adequate supplies, which is not an easy task. Weather constraints play a major factor.
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