At this dominating hill feature at the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a flurry of action-packed activities are playing out on a chilly, wet October morning.
A soldier rises up from an underground hideout. His camouflage gear has loose offshoots jutting out of his helmet, resembling leaves and branches of a tree, hiding his face. He approaches an enemy sentry from behind, slits his throat with his bayonet — a sharp knife or sword like weapon that fits at the end of a rifle.
A second soldier emerges from the same hideout. He screams ferociously, marches and then digs his bayonet into a dummy depicting an enemy soldier, before marching out of the combat scene.
Other soldiers come into the picture soon after. Some lift and throw heavy tyres, the others chop wood, swing sledgehammers. Two soldiers engage each other in unarmed combat. They push and jostle, before one is overpowered and thrown to the slippery, muddy earth, damp with the constant morning drizzle.
This is part of a demonstration of Plan 190 — a training regime comprising a set of rigorous, high-intensity physical conditioning exercises, drills and unarmed combat techniques, which are practised for three hours every day by the troops close to the LAC. It’s followed by 10 minutes of yoga and meditation.
“This keeps them physically fit, mentally awake and helps deal with high-altitude warfare in such treacherous weather conditions,” says Tawang Brigade Commander Brigadier Vijay Jagtap.
The temperature here right now is minus-5 degree Celsius and will go down to minus-25 degree Celsius in the next two months. The area remains covered in snow for six months.
The activities are being demonstrated at this hill feature, a designated Integrated Defended Locality (IDL) in military terms. As per Brigadier Jagtap, the battle is fought from here to deny the enemy access to objectives that he wants to achieve.
An IDL effectively is a combination of various defences held by the Indian Army, including trenches dug deep into the earth and stony bunkers. A company or around 120 Indian Army troops are deployed at all such defended locality.
At a height of around 15,000 feet, this particular defended locality is just a 10-minute drive from the strategic Bum La, where Indian and Chinese military commanders hold border personnel meetings. Just the Tawang sector has over a dozen such defended localities.
This defended locality is also a feature that dominates two major approaches to Tawang, a valley and a 35-km-long road connecting Bum La at the LAC to Tawang.
There are separate storage spaces for storing ammunition as well as other weapons and equipment at the defended locality. It further has a surveillance centre to monitor the minutest of movements at the LAC, a medical inspection room to treat casualties, a cookhouse and accommodation for the troops.
The boss of this setup is a company commander of the Indian Army, a Major-rank officer. It is this officer who is responsible for the conduct of battle as well as the administration of troops deployed here.
All the defences at this hill are interconnected by a contiguous covered communication trench running up to 2.5 km along the hill’s perimeter. This provides the company commander the opportunity to visit each bunker and redeploy troops as and when required, without being noticed by enemy soldiers.
Continuing battle drills
The soldiers are demonstrating how a battle unfolds and is fought from this defended feature. The battle is being simulated and as it begins, bursts of artillery fires pierce through the silence of this secluded hilltop, while the clouds of heavy, pungent smoke thrown up are blinding.
At his bunker, the company commander is fighting the battle.
“The most vital aspect of modern-day warfare is battlefield transparency, so that every commander can take informed and timely decision during a battle,” says Major Rufus Johnson, the company commander of this defended locality.
In his dark bunker, a small screen displays the radar feed on movement of enemy troops and vehicles from long distances. A large screen is displaying live feed of the area ahead through a quadcopter.
A separate tactical video streamer is giving him a live feed from a trans-border patrol operating from the LAC.
Major Johnson says that apart from these information sources, he has platoons under him, commanded by platoon commanders. There are also engineering detachments that are working ahead of the Army’s defences, creating minefields and ditches for the enemy troops.
He adds that there are artillery detachments too, equipped with computers to rain heavy artillery fire on the enemy at a short notice as well as detachments of Army Aviation and Air Defence.
For instance, during the demonstration of one of the battle drills, the company commander gets an input of enemy tanks approaching the LAC and heading towards the Army’s defences. He asks an anti-tank mobile detachment to move to the firing positions. In the next few minutes, a scenario will be simulated where it would engage the enemy tanks. On confirmation of the kill, the detachment disengages and moves towards another position to avoid enemy fire.
The simulated battle would continue and rocket launcher, light machine gun and automatic grenade launcher detachments, among others, would be deployed.
“We ensure that a cohesive battle is fought by integration of various arms and services,” says Major Johnson.
The soldiers here at the forward locations at the LAC in eastern sector have been equipped with the latest American Sig Sauer rifles, light machine guns, 51mm mortars, anti-tank guided missiles and rocket launchers among other weapons.
The troops are provided with special rations, special high-altitude clothing and warm accommodations, so that their health and fitness levels are not affected.
India and China are locked in a military standoff in eastern Ladakh, but there has been an increased deployment of troops all along the LAC. While China has increased troop density along the LAC, India, too, has pushed thousands of acclimatised troops to closer to the LAC to hold defences.
However, at the freezing heights of Bum La, where the Border Personnel Meeting (BPM) huts stand a stone’s from each other on either side of the LAC, there is calm. Nine BPMs are usually held at Bum La on the nationally significant days of the year for both sides, of which five are held on the Indian side and four on the Chinese side.
This year, no BPMs were held. There were, however, three flag meetings held between the military commanders of both sides, called when either side wants to meet their counterpart to discuss an issue.
While tensions between the two countries continue at the LAC, the Army is keeping up hard-core training and battle drill practices for the troops.
“During battles, there will be a lot of chaos. Imagine the same thing happening at night. We will be fighting this battle with the help of underground defences. There will be artillery pounding over us, there will be missiles, attack helicopters, aircraft and TNT shelling,” says Major Johnson.
“But I’m responsible of the organised chaos that happens here, and no matter where the enemy attacks from, his attack will be thwarted (sic),” he adds.