After decades of neglect, India is finally becoming a little more proactive in trying to match China’s rapid strides in developing infrastructure along the two countries’ border, including developing forward airbase capabilities to enhance air operations and improving the road network in the inhospitable high-altitude terrain of the Leh-Ladakh region.
On June 22, AK Antony became the first Indian defense minister to land at the Advanced Landing Ground of Nyoma in Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir and close to the Line of Actual Control. This symbolic move followed the first landing of a fixed wing Indian Air Force at this strategic airstrip last September.
The airstrip is vital from an Indian security point of view as it enables the IAF to operate in Leh-Ladakh region in support of the Army. India has developed Nyoma with China in mind as it allows the Indian military to supply Siachen and other areas of strategic interest to New Delhi during the harsh winters.
Antony also reviewed the security situation in both the eastern and western sectors of Jammu & Kashmir for the Army and the Air Force (in the Kargil and Siachen sectors, India shares a border with Pakistan, while in Ladakh it shares a border with China).
But Antony’s visit to Leh-Ladakh was not just strategic—there was a touch of humanity about it as well. He got a feedback from the troops on the situation on the ground and lent a patient ear in trying to understand the problems and needs of troops stationed there. He also made an aerial survey of Fukche and visited the Siachen base camp to see for himself what has been done so far to improve the living and operational requirements of personnel.
Antony’s interaction with the troops was reportedly frank, covering even the basics like the quality of socks. This may sound trivial, but in a barren area where the main enemy isn’t opposing forces but the elements, such quality of life considerations can make an important difference. The troops also told Antony they needed far more snow scooters and that satellite calls from the area were extremely expensive. Antony is said to have listened to the troops patiently and assured them of early action on all the issues they raised.
While in the region, he also took the opportunity to visit the Defense Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR) where he could see for himself the pioneering research aimed at improving the lives of soldiers that DIHAR is engaged in, research that could also have civilian applications. DIHAR, is said to be the only institute in the world devoted exclusively to developing new arid agro-animal technologies for extremely cold climates, and is also engaged in environmental work. It’s currently working, for example, on sustainable plant cultivation, research into growing hybrid vegetables, developing kits for detecting and treating altitude sickness and working on developing high nutrition products.