The Indian Army’s near complete dependence on imported high-altitude clothing and associated mountaineering equipment for nearly four decades will be highlighted yet again when its troops deploy against the irredentist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in eastern Ladakh during winter.
After mid-August, when the PLA’s pullback from the occupied Indian territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) appeared doubtful, the frantic and costly procurement of special clothing and mountaineering equipment (SCME) began.
It was done to equip the over 40,000 troops positioned at heights between 12,000 and 18,000 feet to prevent further PLA ingress. Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Army officials fanned out across Europe, Australia, Canada and the US to procure assorted high-altitude gear under ‘emergency purchase’ procedures in times of massive financial indigence of kit that can easily be sourced locally.
The Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General SK Saini, stressed as much recently when he lamented the fact that the force continued importing SCME due to lack of ‘viable indigenous solutions’. Speaking at a webinar earlier this month, Lieutenant-General Saini reiterated the need for collaborative efforts under the Atmanirbhar Bharat or self-reliant India initiative to meet critical SCME requirements, which have astonishingly endured since 1984, after the Army took control of the 17,000-foot high Siachen glacier.
Despite India being one of the world’s largest garment and footwear producers, it had failed miserably in making clothing items like Down jackets, insulated trousers, gloves, socks, mittens, caps or even triple-lined snow boots for its soldiers to combat temperatures averaging minus 20 degree Celsius.
These drop precipitously further to minus 40 degree in the upper Himalayan reaches, accentuated brutally by the merciless wind chill factor.