How soldiers stand sentinel in Ladakh

We swam ashore across the lonely rivers at Zanskar, Shyok, Suru and Nubra easily while targeting shoulder-launched IGLA missiles. We lived across Ladakh then.

The feeling and experiences of a war last a lifetime because soldiers go to war at an early age and into the jaws of death. These were terrifying days of targeting warheads at missiles as India faced aggression from the enemy over the mountain range of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at sub-zero temperature. With high altitude fighting gear, soldiers live on the icy wasteland of inhospitable terrain, wading through hills of snows.

It is Ladakh, the disputed region between India, Pakistan and China. The Chinese claimed to have been living for several hundred years in “Aksai Chin” at the western border. The uninhabited areas have never been demarcated and sharing of LAC maps are never agreed by either side. After the 1962 aggression, both countries held its position along the LAC, thus the conflict mitigated by withdrawal of 20 km along the entire frontline and maintained it as 1962 status quo. 

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s path-breaking visit in 1988 and PM Vajpayee’s visit in 2003 helped to set up a dedicated mechanism to resolve the border dispute. Over the years of enhancing confidence at the military level, it failed to agree to a border settlement and troops came into conflict / faceoff regularly. Mercifully, there have been no fatalities on either side of the LAC for over four decades. 

The Indian and Chinese troops were recently engaged in the standoff in Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley, Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie in Eastern Ladakh and Naku La in Sikkim. But on the night of June 15/16, 800 PLAs wearing protective gear and armed with stones, nail studded sticks, iron rods and clubs confronted and ambushed the Indian Patrol Party at Galwan. India now considers Red Dragon to be devious and untrustworthy.

Did the Chinese troops attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the Galwan region? The dominating height of the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DSDBO) road has probably threatened Chinese that connected to Karakoram Pass. The Galwan River flows from the disputed Aksai Chin region to Ladakh and joins the Shyok River. Another road goes across the Galwan River for India’s border patrolling areas near to Chinese border post near Karakoram range. Also IAF has a high landing ground in Daulat Beg Olide where C17 the biggest aircraft courier can land. All these strategic happening might hamper China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) at POK. 

Air Force helicopters can now land at Siachen, the highest battleground of 20,000 ft where India and Pakistan have permanent military bases. India has 2500 km of territory with Sia La, Bilafond La and Gyong La where Pakistan occupies Saltoro Ridge. To protect the Bahadur Post Chulung, Pakistani copters were gunned down by an Indian IGLA Missile where Brig Commander and other boarding troops were killed. That triumph led the Indian Air Force to form an IGLA Squadron at Ladakh region and they were recalled for missile formation. 

The faceoff at Galwan brings back memories of the heyday at Ladakh. Field duties are another battle that requires persistence and courage. Destination unknown, yet soldiers have determination, euphoric joy and brightness for new assignments.  They got willpower and continued fighting till the end of war. Life is all about the moment of victory that is to offer for his motherland.  It was a joy of firing IGLA missile sounding sonic boom at the lonely valleys in areas of high passes.

Man-Portable Air Defence System IGLA is a Surface-to-Air Missile that is lightweight of 28 to 55 pounds with a launcher enough to be operated by a single soldier. It can strike airplanes up to an altitude of 15,000 feet at a range of 3.2 miles at a speed of Mach 2 aiming through laser beams. Developed in the 80s IGLA is the most sophisticated missile the Soviets ever made. Sophisticated military planes are not easily jammed by IGLA electronically but passenger planes are vulnerable.  

Humanity cannot afford war for any reason but soldiers have to move on emergency that we called it as Flash Signal. Passive Air Defence (PAD) was called on while General Pervez Musharraf orchestrated the infiltration of troops and terrorists into Indian Territory. Indian Army launched Operation Vijay 1999, the Kargil War had begun.  

Soldiers were aerodynamically lifted by a MI-8 copter although troopers counteracted drag in forward flight. Boarders peeped through the window to take a fond look and sang along the line from a soldier’s tear. The huts waved them for a prayer while the copter whisked away within a few seconds. Airfield operations take place in the forenoon only owing to the presence of mountain winds. The landing has one of the world's most scenic approaches located between the Mountain ranges.  They landed India’shighest commercial airport in Leh at10,682 feet.

While MiG and Mirage bombarded the Tiger Hills, the Army recaptured Kargil with Bofors guns to silence it and we were busy launching missiles in Ladakh region.It was no Hollywood thriller but we moved hills and vales for the live mission. Soldiers might get wounded, broken but they always stand tall out of fear.

Galwan tells the story of the supreme sacrifice of Indian soldiers who faced off with barbaric Chinese PLA for protecting territorial integrity for their country. To be honest, we did not get the opportunity to lock and fire any enemy aeroplanes as a target or a decoy. But we swam ashore across the lonely rivers at Zanskar, Shyok, Suru and Nubra easily while targeting shoulder launched IGLA missiles. We lived across Ladakh then.

First Published:June 19, 2020, 6:07 p.m.

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