Context: The violent standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh region has thrown the spotlight on high-altitude warfare and the challenges that troops face, particularly when advantageous positions on the heights are occupied by the other side.

How is high-altitude warfare fought?

  • High-altitude warfare is fought keeping the terrain and weather in mind. The kind of infrastructure and training that the troops require for high-altitude warfare are key factors. 
  • The evolution of such warfare goes back a long way: European countries had mountain brigades in view of the kind of terrain prevalent in those countries. The harshness of the terrain calls for a specialised kind of training to prepare soldiers in terms of mindset and acclimatisation.
  • Troops are imparted training in basic and advanced training in mountaineering to make them equipped for mountain warfare.

How is India equipped in such warfare?

  • India is considered a hub of mountain warfare skills since most of the country’s north and northeast requires such skills. Ladakh Scouts are considered the best in this kind of warfare.
    • Indo Tibetian Border police force(ITBP) is a specialized mountain force and most of the officers and men are professionally trained mountaineers and skiers
  • Mountain chop, a tactic involved in such warfare, evolved in India where the mountainous terrain is very difficult to scale.
  • When there are vertical cliffs, it is generally perceived that the enemy that has taken defensive positions will be less guarded from the side of difficult approaches.

What are the challenges involved in warfare in a high-altitude place like Galwan Valley?

  • In a place like Galwan Valley, which is absolutely barren, there is not much concealment. 
  • The soldier on high ground is absolutely stationary, which makes those on lower terrain easy targets; the enemy can pick them up one by one. 
  • Normally in mountain warfare, troops on lower ground use a combat ratio of 1:6, but in circumstances as in Galwan, it may go up to 1:10.
  • Generally, mountain warfare is fought using the period of darkness to reach the opposing army, engage and overpower them before the first light of day. In case troops do not have the capabilities, fitness or strategies to do so before dawn, then it is a lost cause. 

What are the other challenges faced by soldiers in high altitudes?

  • The first major factor is acclimatisation since the oxygen supply reduces drastically
  • Time and place need to be kept on top priority when deciding where the troops have to be stationed and how they have to be mobilised.
    • The load carrying capacity of individuals reduces drastically. 
    • Things move very slow in the mountains and mobilisation of troops consumes time
  • At every stage when an assault progresses, the troops require access to maintenance. One needs to identify tactical points (which are passes in the current scenario) where troops can build roads and take defensive positions, and where those troops need to be maintained. 
  • Generally, troops carry a 30-35 kg load including weapons, ammunition, communication equipment, rations etc.

What are the logistical challenges in this kind of warfare?

  • One major challenge is that weapons jam, particularly in high-altitude areas. 
    • When a soldier is at a height of 17,000 ft or above, it is very cold, and he needs to grease the weapons and clean the barrels at least once a week to ensure they function efficiently.
  • Vehicles do not start when fuel jams. If the fuel is diesel, it won’t ignite unless it is mixed with thinners or other chemicals to make them thin enough to fire the engine.
  • There has to be a contingency plan to first identify the tactical points that need to be used in case of an assault.
  • In Galwan, which is an extremely tactical area and strategically important, reinforcement plays a vital role, particularly when the Indian troops are not in a position of advantage. 
  • For communication equipment, troops need to carry more batteries because they drain very quickly at high altitude. Weather constraints play a major factor.

What kind of training do Indian troops get in mountain warfare?

  • The troops are trained in skilled mountaineering techniques, rock-craft as well as mountain craft.
  • Acclimatisation to avoid non-battle, cold casualties.
  • Trainers who keep troops well-equipped and efficient to meet any contingency.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/india-china-border-dispute-why-high-altitude-warfare-is-challenging-how-soldiers-are-trained-6471532/

Image Source: Indian Express