India’s military brass is once again pushing for “timely development” of all-weather connectivity along the long unresolved borders with China through a network of roads, tunnels and underground shelters to ensure faster troop mobility and logistics as well as storage of ammunition, missiles and other weapon systems.
Sources said one of the major thrust areas in the week-long Army commanders’ conference chaired by General Bipin Rawat, which ended on Saturday, was the urgent need to step-up infrastructure development along the “northern borders” with China stretching from eastern Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
“Though the situation has improved over the last couple of years, much more needs to be done … it was decided that infrastructure development projects along the Line of Actual Control should be pursued with higher priority,” said a source.
The generals, for instance, discussed the need for faster completion of the entire all-weather Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie road, which is strategically important because it runs parallel to the LAC in eastern Ladakh. The work on the 255-km long road has suffered from realignments, poor construction and other problems since it began in September 2001.
“Similarly, strengthening of some bridges in Sikkim and Ladakh for better movement of tanks and artillery guns is required. The construction of tunnels for movement of FOL (fuels, oil, lubricants) and ammunition convoys was also on the agenda,” said the source.
India has gradually build military muscle along the LAC by deploying additional troops, supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles and Bofors howitzers in Arunachal Pradesh and T-72 tanks in eastern Ladakh and Sikkim as well as Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, drones and Akash surface-to-air missiles in the north-east, as reported by TOI earlier.
Moreover, 18 of the 36 new Rafale jets will be based at Hasimara (West Bengal) for the eastern front after the first squadron comes up at Ambala (Haryana) for the western one with Pakistan. All the 36 jets, incidentally, are slated for delivery between November 2019 and April 2022.
But Indian troops still suffer from the lack of requisite connectivity in the border areas. The Army, for instance, is now looking forward to completion of two critical projects, the Rohtang tunnel in Himachal Pradesh by the end of this year and the Se La tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh by 2022-2023.
But the work on over a dozen other proposed tunnels in J&K, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, along the borders with Pakistan and China, has not progressed beyond the initial stages. The tunnels are crucial for providing storage of war-fighting assets as well as NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) protection without the threat of detection by enemy satellites and spy drones.
Similarly, there has been little progress on the 14 “strategic” railway lines, which were approved by the defence ministry in 2010, with the Army even identifying three of them as topmost priority later. There have also been huge delays in the construction of the 73 “strategic” all-weather roads, with a total length of 4,643-km, which were first identified for construction along the LAC almost two decades ago. Of the 61 roads entrusted to BRO, with more east-west lateral links as well as better access routes to strategic peaks and valleys, just about 35 have been fully completed till now.
China, in sharp contrast, has systematically built an extensive military infrastructure in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which includes 14 airbases, an extensive rail network, and over 58,000-km of roads. China is now also constructing underground hangers and parking bays for its fighters by digging tunnels into mountains at some of the airbases, as reported by TOI earlier.