Category Archives: Indian Preparedness

India struggling with making warfare clothing

IANS Apr 30, 2010
A parliamentary panel has lamented that India, which is capable of launching satellites and manufacturing missiles, tanks and other state-of-the-art defence equipment, lacks adequate capabilities for making specialised clothing for high altitude warfare.

That is the reason why, of the 55 items authorised for soldiers stationed in areas like the Siachen Glacier and Kargil, 19 critical items like down feather jackets, trousers, sleeping bags, multipurpose boots, woollen socks and rucksacks are being imported ‘as no indigenous source was available’, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said in its report.

The committee recommended that domestic production capabilities be strengthened, at least in the public sector, ‘even if the Indian private sector is not forthcoming, ostensibly due to lack of economic viability considerations’.

‘The defence of a nation is a non-negotiable national imperative and under no circumstances can commercial and economic considerations be allowed to compromise the nation’s foremost priority,’ said the committee, headed by Gopinath Munde of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its report tabled in parliament Thursday.

The committee was also ‘dismayed’ to learn that despite the fact that Army Headquarters has been procuring these items for over two decades, ‘the procedure for formulation of technical specifications, evaluation of offers and selection of vendors have not been streamlined so far’.

Of the 10 contracts concluded during 2002-06 for the purchase of special clothing for Rs.48.88 crore, 59 percent of the items valued at Rs.28.81 crore were rejected either at the receipt inspection stage or by the end users.

‘The whole approach towards procurement of such supplies appears casual so that neither quality not timely availability of critical items could be ensured, thereby compromising safety as well as comfort of the troops deployed in harsh climatic conditions,’ the committee said.

It noted that there were 388 casualties reported due to cold-induced injuries such as frostbite and chilblain.

The committee said the procurement process ‘was fraught by serious delays at every stage, impacting on the timely availability of adequate clothing and equipment each time during deployment of troops to Siachen’.

It took 32 months from the time of raising a demand to the delivery of the items to the troops, mainly because of the ‘severe delay in trial evaluation and finalisation of specifications’ by the Directorate General of Quality Assurance, tendering and the signing of the contract.

Taking into account all the shortcomings in the procurement process, the committee has recommended that the ‘entire procurement procedures be revised, so that from the time of recognising the need for procuring clothing and mountaineering equipment till these are finally delivered to the end users is minimised to the maximum extent consistent with ensuring transparency’.

Fixing of responsibility ‘is seen as a very important step for correcting the acts of omission and commission’, the committee said and asked the defence ministry ‘to fix responsibility on all concerned who were found to be responsible for flaws in procurement procedures, technical evaluations and rejected of ordered clothing and equipment’.

Tunnel to Ladakh will ease supplies (and travel!) to Siachen

>офис обзавежданеel vision 2014: To Ladakh by road in sleet and snow8 Dec 2009, 1317 hrs IST, IANSNEW DELHI: Work on the strategic Rohtang Tunnel that will ensure all weather road connectivity to Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir will begin early next year and be completed by 2014, people will be able to get their cars very easy
in order to travel now, more than three decades after it took shape on the drawing board.The nine-kilometre horseshoe shaped tunnel that will help connect the Ladakhi capital Leh to Manali in Himachal Pradesh will be at a height of 3,000-3,100 metres and one of the highest in the world, officials said.”The tunnel is important to maintain supply lines to the forward posts in Ladakh and Siachen Glacier,” said an official of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).The contract for the tunnel was awarded on Sep 24 this year after the Cabinet Committee on Security approved it, he said. Though conceived in 1983, the foundation stone was laid years later in 2000 by then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2000.It took another nine years for the next step to be taken.”The contract has been awarded to Afcon Infrastructure in collaboration with European firm Strabag in September. The work would begin early next year (2010) and be completed in 2014,” the BRO official said on condition of anonymity.The project, estimated to cost around Rs.1,500 crore ($3.2 billion), would have to overcome vagaries of nature like heavy snowfall, high velocity winds and sub-zero temperatures.It’s a tough job, beginning from building access roads to the tunnel site.”Work is running full throttle to complete the roads leading up to the tunnel site. Initially, only access roads with minimum necessary specifications for the mobilisation of resources will be constructed. Later, the same will be developed to National Highway Double Lane specifications and will then be called the approach road,” the official added.Burrowed below the Rohtang Pass at 3,978 metres, the tunnel will ensure that the pass connecting the strategically important regions bordering China will remain open year round. Presently, the route is closed during the winter months from November to April due to heavy snowfall.It will provide an all-weather alternative road to Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir and the Lahaul and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh.Besides, the 475 km distance between Manali and Leh in Jammu and Kashmir will be reduced by 40 km.With China constructing a rail line near the India-China border, New Delhi is also firming up projects to revamp border infrastructure in the region. If there’s a need for additional money for the infrastructure, developers usually borrow money from loanago. go to this website if loaning interests you. The main thrust is on increasing connectivity whether by road or by air, officials said.The government is also planning to refurbish over 20 advanced landing grounds in the region which could then be used for boosting tourism in the region and to maintain supply to the troops in forward areas.

Verbal war over Siachen: India hits back


9/17/2007 – The Indian government has lashed out at Pakistan for protesting New Delhi’s plans to throw open Siachen Glacier to tourists.

The Indian government, that controls a large chunk of the disputed Glacier has firmly told Pakistan that it does not need Islamabad’s permission to open the glacier to tourists as they are going to a part of India.

Earlier, Pakistan had registered its protest against the Indian government’s plan to throw open the Siachen Glacier to tourists.

Pakistan has summoned the Deputy High Commissioner to officially lodge their objection to India’s move.

Saltoro Ridge is “non-negotiable”

Earlier in a clear signal to Pakistan that the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region will remain “non-negotiable”, India had decided to open the Glacier to civilian trekkers.
¼br> The Indian Army controls all of the 70-km-long Siachen glacier, as well as all of its tributary glaciers as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier, thus holding on to the tactical advantage of higher ground. The Indian troops had occupied Saltoro Ridge Heights against daunting odds, under ‘Operation Meghdoot’ in April 1984.

The Army plans to organise trekking trips as part of “civilian adventure activities” to the world’s highest, coldest and costliest battlefield which has not been witnessing the earlier fierce artillery duels due to the ongoing Indo-Pak ceasefire. But Pakistan is opposed to the same, claiming that negotiations on Siachen are still on.

“The area remains a conflict zone and a reported move by India to open up Siachen for tourism could aggravate the situation with serious consequences,” says a statement by Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tasneem Aslam.

TIMES NOW spoke to defence analyst Maroof Raza who says the glacier falls within Indian territory.

“Logically if you follow the Line of Control definition as per the Karachi agreementof 1949, the LOC brings the Siachen glacier into Indian territory – so technically we are right. We are in Indian territory, Pakistan has always made claims there but these claims are not based on any accurate data.”

The frenzy of activity at the glacial heights comes after joint talks yielded little. And India stands firm, saying the expedictions will take place on the Indian side for which it need not seek permission.

The Government’s proposal

Siachen – once the highest battlefield on earth – could now become a tourist attraction with the Government’s proposal to open the glacial heights to trekkers.

A group of 20 people including eight to nine civilians and cadets from NCC, Rashtriya Indian Military College and Indian Military Academy, are to be part of the first trekking expedition from September 19.

The expeditions are meant to show that Indian troops hold all the dominating heights along the glacier.

An Indo-French expedition to Mamostong Kangri Peak, located about 30 kms east of the snout of the Siachen glacier, took place earlier this month. Next will be the first civilian expedition to the glacier.

Management Professor Charuhas Joshi who will be part of that expedition, said he couldn’t wait to get there.

“For 8-10 days there is an acclimatisation and training programme where they will teach us snowcraft, how to handle the various equipment, as well as dos and donts of mountain-climbing. They will equip us, we will get accimatised over there, and then they will put us on a trek,” said Joshi.

For those looking forward to the unique Siachen experience the move to open the glacier has been welcome.

The guns over Siachen may have been silent for some time, lying on a glock cleaning mat amazon, but the cold war over this sub-zero battlefield continues.

Video: Verbal war over Siachen: India hits back

Alternatively: Timesnow Video


Dhruv all set to be inducted in Siachen sector

Jammu: The indigenously developed Dhruv helicopter is set to be inducted by the army in the Siachen sector after successfully completing trials at the icy heights.

The test trials were conducted in February, defence sources told PTI.

After its formal induction, the first advanced light helicopter would join the MI-17V, Chetak, Cheeta and Chetan helicopters, which fly daily in Siachen skies for over 35 hours in a month for logistic, communication, casualty evacuation and supply support.

Dhruv qualified for high-altitude glacier flying with flying colours on February 15, the sources said, adding the helicopter would prove as an air taxi with support system for all weathers to the Indian soldiers.

The helicopter has cleared its validation processes, including test for high altitude and low temperature flying, which makes it ready to hover above the Siachen, they said.

“Dhruv passed this test trials last month and it is now fit for flying in the Siachen sector in all conditions and conduct all types of operations,” a defence source said.

Manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore and inducted into the Indian Air Force in 1998, Dhruv as “a multi-role chopper proved best on all the fronts in terms of operations relating to search
and rescue, emergency airlift, air ambulance, evacuation, payload deliveries in high altitude posts and carriage of men and material”, the source said.

The trials were carried by commanding officer of the Chandigarh-based Dhruv squad, Squadron Leader Sandesh Mitra for over a six-months period at different times and weather conditions.

Dhruv, indigenously developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation, performed beyond its limits of expectations in Siachen and surprised even its pilots as flying a helicopter of 5.6 tonnes at 23,000 feet above the sea level is virtually impossible, the sources said.

The helicopter has of late become a favourite of the navy — operating to great effect in casualty evacuation in sea and coastlines alike.

While the Kochi-based Southern Naval Command has one unit of the helicopter specially designed for sea waters with rafts below them, Dhruv has two squadrons in Bangalore and Chandigarh.

While Bangalore has the world’s best Sarang squadron of Dhruv advanced light helicopters, the Chandigarh-based 114 Helicopter unit is famous as the ‘Himalayan dragons’.

Siachen Glacier: The story with pictures

Indian army on PatrolFor more than 17 blustery, shivering years, the Indian and Pakistani armies have been fighting a “No-Win” war on the 20,000-foot-high Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground. Pakistan, like India, has about 10,000 soldiers camped on this glacier. For a soldier, this is where hell freezes over, a 46-mile river of slow-moving ice surrounded by stupendous towers of snow. Temperatures swoon to 50 below, and sudden blizzards can bury field artillery in minutes. Men sleep in ice caves or igloos and breathe air so spare of oxygen that it sends their hearts into a mad gallop. Fainting spells and pounding headaches are frequent. Frostbite chews its way through digits and limbs. They are prepared, both sides say, to battle on the roof of the world forever.

Map of Siachen TOIThe Siachen(the place of roses) glacier, 72 km, in the East Karakoram is one of the longest glaciers in the Himalaya and Karakoram. It has number of peaks, side valleys and at its head lies the Indira Col, the divide between South and Central Asia. The Nubra river drains the glacier and ultimately joins the Shyok river near Khalsar. On the west lies the West Karakoram (now under Pakistani control) and towards the east is the Shyok basin, forming the border with China. The northern slopes of the Indira Ridge leads to the Shaksgam valley.

Cheetah helicopter at SiachenIn 1949, after the first of three wars,the nations agreed to a cease-fire line that unfortunately stopped short of the remote massifs of north-central Kashmir — a disputed area on the map where India, Pakistan and China rub shoulders.The wording in the agreement merely said the line was to continue “north to the glaciers.” For two decades, this vague phrasing was of more concern to map makers than soldiers, but then in the 1970s and early eighties Pakistan permitted several mountaineering expeditions to climb high peaks on this glacier. This was to reinforce their claim on the area as these expeditions arrived on the glacier with a permit obtained from the Government of Pakistan. In many cases an liaison officer from the Pakistan army accompanied the team.

Indian Army using snowmobiles for patrolPakistan gave permission to a Japanese expedition to attempt Rimo peak in 1984. This peak is located in the side valley, east of Siachen. It overlooks the eastern areas of the Aksai Chin. Such an expedition would have firmly linked the western routes with the eastern routes, — the trade route leading to Karakoram Pass and China. The Indian army decided to take action and to prevent such an expedition from proceeding. In April 13, 1984, the Indian Army made a “pre-emptive” move into the glacier to defend the territory and the peaks and passes around it when it launched “Operation Meghdoot”. Within weeks, Pakistani forces swept in to oppose them, but the Indians have been able to hold on to the tactical advantage of the high ground. The last major gunbattle in the region was reported September 4, 1999, when India said Pakistani artillery and mortar fire killed nine Indian soldiers on the craggy slopes of Turtuk, near the 47-mile-long Siachen Glacier.

Mi-17’s on a supply dropping missionAs of date, some 10,000 troops are deployed by Pakistan and a befitting number faces them on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. To cater to such a large number of troops, about 6000 tonnes of load is flown into the Siachen Glacier every year. An almost equal amount is para-dropped there. This is achieved by the IAF’s AN-32 aircraft and helicopters which serve as a ‘lifeline’ for the Northern Sector. The Kargil fighting showed India that the most uninhabitable, frozen land was not a sufficient barrier to intrusion. The Indian air force, trying to show that it is on the alert in a region even harder to defend than the sheer Kargil cliffs, has arranged a series of trips for photojournalists to see the Siachen operation. “Particularly since the Kargil war, the load of responsibility of the air force has increased,” Air Vice Marshal S.K. Jain told journalists during the tour. “The forces are on alert, ready to meet any threat.” The sound of incoming gunfire could be heard as the air force transports loaded up at Leh, on the approach to the Siachen Glacier.

Despite five layers of clothing, paratroopers shiver as they wait to board an air force transport at the world’s highest air base at Leh. The AN-32A planes approach the stark runway at Leh in snowy mist, pushed by tail winds. The pilots navigate the steep mountains by sight. Higher on the icy Himalayan peaks, helicopter pilots battle downdrafts as they land on helipads to deliver precious supplies or rescue injured soldiers. The pilots stay on the ground no more than 30 seconds for fear of being shot. But cold kills more troops than bullets. Soldiers brought down to base camp often suffer hearing, eyesight and memory loss because of prolonged use of oxygen masks. Many lose eyes, hands or feet to frostbite. At the glacial heights, where even drinking water is from melting the ice on stoves, bathing is a rarity. Washing of clothing, too, is not possible. Hence, 14 pairs of thermal socks per individual are given for a 90-day stay so that the problem of washing at the posts is eliminated. But soldiers have to wash their clothing before depositing it back and leaving the glacier. Clothing used in the glacier is washed at the hot water sulphur springs on the banks of the Nubra at Panamik, a village near the base camp. Such is the rotation schedule that the washing goes on round the year. A serving Captain, just back from his glacier tenure, describes Panamik as the “world’s biggest and highest dhobi ghat”.

Indian igloosSome army posts on the peaks are only 1,000 feet from Pakistani entrenchments. Cheetah helicopters fly in to retrieve wounded or sick soldiers and drop supplies to their comrades, who remain behind on the lonely promontories. The enemy is hard to see in the crags and craters in the vast whiteness — and harder to hit. Rifles must be thawed repeatedly over kerosene stoves, and machine guns need to be primed with boiling water. At altitudes of 18,000 feet, mortar shells fly unpredictable and extraordinary distances, swerving erratically when met by sledgehammer gusts. While some troops fall to hostile fire, far more perish from avalanches and missteps into crevasses that nature has camouflaged with snow. This is especially so now in springtime, as the sun licks away several feet of ice and opens new underground cracks and seams.

But for all these logistical peculiarities, the Siachen conflict might be thought of as just another low-intensity border war — were it not being fought between the world’s two newest nuclear powers. Their combat over a barren, uninhabited nether world of questionable strategic value is a forbidding symbol of their lingering irreconcilability. “This is like a struggle of two bald men over a comb,” said Stephen P. Cohen, an authority on the Indian subcontinent at the Brookings Institution. “Siachen is the epitome of the worst aspects of the relationship. These are two countries that are paired on a road to Oslo or Hiroshima, and at this point they could go either way.”

Mi-17 dropping suppliesMost of India’s many outposts are west of the glacier along the Saltoro Range of the Karakoram Mountains. These pickets are reachable to an enemy only after a strenuous climb and then a frontal assault, a near-hopeless task in such thin air. After 50 strides, even a well-conditioned man is gasping for breath with his muscles in a tremble. Seventeen years of refrigerated combat have brought only 17 years of hardened stalemate. The Pakistanis cannot get up to the glacier; the Indians cannot come down. “Nobody can win, no matter how long we fight,” said Maj. Gen. V. S. Budhwar, the Indian commander in Leh, whose region includes Siachen. “But this is our land. It is a portion of our nation-state, and we will not cede it.” Occasionally, some vital strategic importance is assigned to the Siachen area, with hypothetical aggressors flooding across mountain highways. More often, the conflict is described as a simple matter of principle. Imagine, people say, how America would respond if the Russians overran even a small, barren chunk of Alaska.

“Siachen is an awful place where you can step on a thin layer of snow and, poof, down you go 200 feet,” said Gen. Khalid Mehmood Arif, the retired former vice chief of Pakistan’s military. “But no nation ever wants to lose a single inch of territory, so Siachen has psychological and political importance. Its value is in ego and prestige.” Arduous to live in, the Siachen area is beautiful to look at. Some of the world’s tallest mountains fill the landscape, their snowy tops giving way to rivulets of white that glitter against the black and purple rock. It is a moonscape of mesmerizing pinnacles and ridges and drops. Ice formations rise a mile high. Clouds seem at arm’s reach. The Indian base camp is at the very start of the glacier, which gently curves upward like a giant white tongue. Barracks, helipads, supply sheds, satellite dishes, a hospital and Hindu shrines are spread across several acres. It is clear the Indians have been here awhile and are ready to stay. The command post is carpeted. Curtains hang along the windows. “We have the heights,” said Brig. P. C. Katoch, who runs the operation. In contrast with the superior vista those heights afford, he said, the Pakistani soldier sees nothing: “He hears a helicopter and shoots. He hears artillery and shoots. It’s stupid. He doesn’t know where he’s shooting.”

Supplies packed for loading on Mi-17But being king of the hill is costly. The Pakistanis can resupply most of their posts by road and pack mule. At their forward positions, some as high as 21,000 feet, the Indians must rely on helicopters. The whirlybirds strain against the altitude like oversized bumblebees. Many an airdrop is swallowed by the snow. Both sides deploy about 3,000 soldiers. While the Pakistanis refuse to divulge how much they spend in Siachen, the Indians estimate the cost at about $350,000 to $500,000 a day, said Lieut. Gen. R. K. Sawhney, the army’s director general of military intelligence. Transporting kerosene is one major expense. Some Indian soldiers live in igloos made of fiberglass panels. Six soldiers can sleep in jigsaw configurations, crowded into a room the size of a king-size bed. Others live in ice tunnels gouged out with a pickax. Either way, small kerosene stoves are the hearths they huddle around. The hissing competes with the howling of the wind. Black smoke seems to color everything, including a man’s spit. The highest perches are occupied by only a handful of soldiers, and sleeping is rarely done at night, for this is the most likely time for the enemy to sneak up. Sentry duty is bleak work. Hot water bottles do not stay hot for long. A relay must be set up to exchange frozen rifles for defrosted ones.

During storms, the heavy snowfall seems as thick as long, white drapery. The wind does pinwheels, and the basics of a hard life gets that much harder. “At my post, you have to use a crawl trench to get to the toilet,” said Cpl. Joginder Singh. “When it snows, the trench fills up and you have to stand. The enemy can see you and that’s how you die.” It is difficult to know how many men have been killed. Some local news reports put casualty totals for both sides in the thousands, but this seems based on conjecture. The Pakistanis do not release such details, and the Indians say they have lost only the 616 soldiers whose names appear on a stone memorial at the base camp. The inscription reads: “Quartered in snow, silent to remain. When the bugle calls, they shall rise and march again.”

Indian army on PatrolTo this day, Kashmir is the issue that most heats the blood of Indians and Pakistanis. “The roots of the Kashmir problem are very tangled, but as far as the glacier goes, this is simply a matter of Pakistanis sneaking their way into a place that doesn’t belong to them,” said India’s Lieut. Gen. M. L. Chibber, retired, who is central to the Siachen saga. An amiable man who left the army in 1985, General Chibber now follows the guru Sai Baba and speaks easily about the futility of war. In 1978, however, he was a commander with responsibility for Siachen. He was alarmed to learn that the Pakistanis were accompanying mountaineers to the glacier. Just as troubling were maps printed in the West. They showed Siachen as part of Pakistan. By the early 80’s, both armies were sending expeditions into the area, and suspicions accumulated like fresh snow. In late 1983, the Indians became convinced the Pakistanis were about to seize the glacier, General Chibber said. This was inferred from intercepted communiqués. If further evidence was needed, he said, it came when India sent procurers to Europe to buy cold-weather gear. They ran into Pakistanis doing the same shopping.

India’s “pre-emptive” takeover of Siachen was called Operation Meghdoot after the divine cloud messenger in a Sanskrit play. It soon came to seem a burdensome success. Like over-eager chess players, the Indians had failed to plan several moves ahead. “No one had ever carried out military operations at these altitudes and temperatures, so we figured after the summer ended, we’d have to pull out,” General Chibber said. “But with the first snows, we realized it was possible to stay up there all winter. If we left, the Pakistanis would take the glacier and then we’d never get it back.” In the conflict’s first years, with the armies inexperienced at such a cold war, the number of casualties mounted quickly. Valiant, if foolhardy, assaults were attempted. Frostbite, snow blindness and pulmonary and cerebral edema took a huge toll. Daring raids are now rare, the Pakistanis say, though the Indians often boast of victorious defensive skirmishes, killing three here and a dozen there. Each side makes claims the other vigorously denies.

Indian artilleryThese days, the blasts of artillery and mortar shells are the war’s steady cadence. “We fire at them and they fire at us, but this is not a place where the usual calculations of trajectory and distance apply,” said Capt. Hamid Mukhtar, a Pakistani artillery officer. Captain Mukhtar was serving at a forward post at 18,000 feet, near a ridgeline known as the Conway Saddle. “There are crevasses on either side of these paths,” he cautioned as he walked. “Step into the wrong place and you will go to meet God beneath the snow.” Daily patrolling is necessary, if for no other reason than to tread on a marked trail so it will not disappear. In February, in a typical catastrophe, an avalanche crushed 13 Pakistani soldiers tethered together with rope. A single survivor led the search that later recovered the pristine dead, their bodies preserved as if locked in cold storage. Melting leads to snow slides. The noontime temperature in early spring was 10 below, but the sun was bright enough to rapidly turn an exposed nose the color of a radish. Sweat is a problem because it becomes ice in a soldier’s gloves and socks. Frostbite is then quick with its work. Even after a day’s exertion, most soldiers have little appetite at these heights. Rations come out of tin cans. Fresh produce is rare. An orange freezes to the hardness of a baseball; a potato cannot be dented with a hammer.

Despite the hardships, both sides report an oversupply of volunteers. Stints in Siachen usually last three months or less. “This is my country’s soil, and whether something grows here or not, I would gladly die to protect it,” said Cpl. Mohammad Shafique, a Pakistani. Few soldiers know much about the other side’s territorial claims, but they seem untroubled by doubt of the enemy’s murderous skulduggery. While many people in India and Pakistan hope for rapprochement, others merely heap fresh animosity upon the old. Evil is presumed. General Budhwar, the Indian regional commander, said Pakistanis suffer from a “deformed growth,” becoming brainwashed in school “with all the dos and don’ts” of Islamic fundamentalism. “Their very existence depends on being inimical to India,” he said. One of his counterparts is Brig. Nusrat Khan Sial, who commands Pakistan’s Siachen operation from the city of Skardu. He called the Indians “cowards” whose Hindu beliefs lack reverence for human life. He said he suspects they have used chemical weapons in Siachen, which the Indians vehemently deny. “It will be the Indians, not us, who will trigger this situation up to the level where both sides resort to nuclear weapons,” he said.

Siachen service medalOver the years, Siachen itself has been the subject of seven “major rounds of talks,” said Robert G. Wirsing, a scholar at the University of South Carolina. Under various Governments ruled by various parties, negotiators have agreed that the conflict is futile — and some have even called it lunatic. But one side or the other has always been too afraid of a double-cross to complete a deal. Domestic politics are also a hitch. Any compromise involving Kashmir looms like a lit fuse, especially to unstable Governments. So the two armies fight on, proud of conquering the elements if not each other. Their doctors have become experts at high-altitude medicine, their helicopter pilots adroit at skirting the cliffs. Solar panels are affixed to some igloos, over the roofs, that are installed by companies as The Roof Clinic and others. On the Indian side, a kerosene pipeline is being completed. A ski lift will ferry soldiers across the canyons. A pulley system has begun to hoist supplies up the mountainsides. Bacteria are eating human waste in machines called biodigesters. “We have become specialists at high-altitude fighting — probably the best in the world,” boasted General Sawhney, sounding as self-congratulatory as his Pakistani counterparts. “We can tolerate the harsh elements. We have made livable conditions.” They are prepared, both sides say, to battle on the roof of the world forever.

Siachen Pioneers to get more punch

Leh, May 14 After having put their name in record books, the Siachen Pioneers, the Air Force’s lifeline to troops deployed in inaccessible areas atop the world?s highest battlefield, is looking at further enhancing its reach and capabilities with the induction of new helicopters.Known as the 114 Helicopter Unit, the very survival of troops manning posts as high as 22,000 feet depend upon the Siachen Pioneers, as the unit is aptly called, and their Cheetah helicopters, as no other flying machine can land at that altitude. The unit is now awaiting induction of the Cheetal helicopter, a re-engined and more powerful version of the Cheetah.

The Cheetals carried out summer trails over Siachen last year followed by winter trials during the last few months.

Cheetals were flown over the glacier for about 50 hours during each trial session by seasoned pilots to evaluate each aspect of the flying machine.

The Cheetal has the same airframe as the Cheetah, but is powered by the engine used in the Dhruv advanced light helicopter. A more powerful engine means we would be to fly still higher and be able to carry more load.

The Siachen Pioneers set a world record when it carried out a casualty evacuation from an altitude of 25,000 feet. The unit is awaiting ratification of this feat from the Gunnies Book of Records.

The 114 Helicopter Unit was raised at the 10,600 feet high Leh airbase on April 1, 1964, the IAF’s only flying unit to be raised at that altitude. It has seen action in Indo-Pak wars, major operations and other mercy operations. It was the 114 HU that supported the High Altitude Warfare School?s first ??exploratory expedition??, led by Colonel N Kumar to the Siachen Glacier area in September 1978.

The first landing in Siachen (as part of Operation Meghdoot) was on August 24, 1982, by a Cheetah helicopter of the unit. The 114 HU now has the unique distinction of being the only flying unit to be operating continuously in an active war zone for twenty years since Operation Meghdoot was launched in 1984. Since then it has been flying to altitudes as high as 20,000 feet as a matter of routine, holding its motto Apatsu Mitram ? A Friend in Distress ? in good stead.

Till the 1999 Kargil conflict, women pilots also flew with the squadron, but were later withdrawn following a policy decision owing to operational and physiological factors. It was during the Kargil conflict that women pilots flying in hostile environment came into prominence after pictures of Flg Offr Gunjan Saxsena climbing into a Cheetah?s cockpit with an AK-47 rifle sling across her shoulders were published.