India has positioned its T-72 tanks in the vast open valleys hugging the mountain ranges of eastern Ladakh.
The move is aimed to catch up with China’s aggressive military stance and infrastructure build up across the border.
Nearly 100 tanks have been positioned near the border and more are expected soon.
This is the first time that Army has deployed at these freezing altitudes. The weather and the terrain are exacting for the soldiers and the machinery. Temperatures often go down to -45°C, which affects their performance. The air, thin in oxygen, makes it difficult to breathe plus fierce winds amplify the chill. The accidental touch of a piece of metal can lead to chilblains and other injuries.
To adjust to such freezing heights, Indian Army has adopted several unusual tactics. This includes repeated switching on during the nights in winter to prevent freezing.
For high altitude terrain the army has obtained special additives and lubricants such as winter grade diesel and additives for the lubrication system – preventing it from freezing in the tank.
The first regiment of T-72 tanks has already been deployed to Ladakh, one in 2014 and the other last year. A third regiment will be moved in soon, forming a full brigade.
It may be noted the army had tried to use tanks during the 1962 China war (five were air dropped). Then six AMX-13 tanks were airlifted to Ladakh in AN-12 transport aircraft. But they failed to make any significant impact as the crew were un-acclimatised and the tanks were not equipped to operate in the rarefied atmosphere.
The mechanised units in the Ladakh region add a punch to the increased boots on the ground. China too has major mechanised units on its side of the frontier.
With Chinese troops repeatedly entering Indian territory, the Indian move could be seen as step to assert its authority over parts that China tries to claim as its own.