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Is Eastern Ladakh the New Siachen, World’s Highest, Deadliest and Costliest Battlefield?

Rajiv Kumar
·3-min read

There is no glimmer of thaw even after seven rounds of India-China military talks. The face-off, which started in the beginning of the summer, is all set to enter the harshest winter on this planet in the icy cold Himalayas.

It is only the third week of October, but temperatures have started falling below the freezing point in eastern Ladakh where around 50,000 Indian troops are in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with an equal number of PLA troops. The weather will worsen in the coming months and will persist until April.

Experts have already started comparing the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with Siachen, one of the most hostile places on the earth. The figures give away the story of why Siachen is such a harsh terrain.

No less than 1,000 Indian soldiers have died since 1984 while serving in the world’s highest, deadliest and costliest battlefield. And most of them due to hostile climatic conditions.

The temperature can dip to up to minus 60 degree Celsius in the glacier spread over 76 sq km. Threat from avalanches, crevasses, blizzards and frosty winds is as constant as one’s breath and heartbeat. Low oxygen levels are a constant cause for concern.

The major cause of deaths at this high altitude battlefield of around 24,000 feet is hypothermia. The condition sets in when the human body loses heat faster than it can produce, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Besides, the glacier also causes frostbite, white-outs and hypoxia where human tissues are starved of oxygen.

Organising logistics in this high-altitude battlefield is the biggest challenge. The conditions are so severe that even choppers have to exceed their service ceilings to ensure our jawans remain fighting fit and essential supplies reach them in time.

The cost to maintain this battlefield in such a hostile environment is prohibitively expensive. According to an estimate, India spends around Rs 6 crore a day or around Rs 2,190 crore per year to ensure that Siachen remains peaceful.

The situation in eastern Ladakh is not much different. It is believed that some of our soldiers succumbed due to freezing temperatures of the Galwan river in the June 15 clash with the Chinese troops. The temperature, though not as harsh as Siachen, falls beyond minus 20 degree Celsius during the winter in this region.

India needs to purchase an adequate number of Arctic tents and winter gear for its troops.

India is also concluding its most extensive military logistics operation in decades in the icy desert of eastern Ladakh. Soon, the passes in the route connecting the battlefield with base camps and supply lines will close. This has led New Delhi to adequately stock up special high-altitude rations, portable kerosene heaters, fuels, and essential medicines.

The Indian army also had to haul its heavy weaponries such as big guns, tanks and ammunition before the roads would get snowed under. Like Siachen, in eastern Ladakh, too, the cost of sustaining 30,000 troops along 300 km of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is a costly affair. One estimate puts it at around Rs 100 crore per day or Rs 36,500 crore annually.