India has the world’s largest and most experienced troops trained for high-altitude battles, a military expert affiliated to China’s leading maker of equipment for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has said, adding that mountaineering is an “essential skill” for each Indian soldier deployed in the mountains.
“At present, the world’s largest and experienced country with plateau and mountain troops is neither the US, Russia, nor any European powerhouse, but India,” wrote Huang Guozhi, senior editor of Modern Weaponry magazine.
The magazine, considered a comprehensive military and defence journal, is affiliated to the state-owned China North Industries Group Corporation Limited (NORINCO), which describes itself as “the main platform responsible for developing mechanised, digitised and intellectualised equipment for PLA”.
The write-up comes in the backdrop of a stand-off between Indian and Chinese border troops along the line of actual control (LAC) in the mountainous Ladakh region. It began last month and was the topic of talks between military commanders last weekend.
Huang’s article published in thepaper.cn is a rare critique of an Indian army wing in Chinese media, which usually takes the more nationalistic tone of brandishing its own capabilities along the border with India.
Huang’s take was nuanced.
“Mountaineering is an essential skill for almost every member of the Indian mountain army. To this end, India even recruited a large number of professional mountaineers and amateur mountaineers from the private sector,” Huang wrote.
“With more than 200000 troops in 12 divisions, the Indian mountain force is the largest mountain fighting force in the world,” Huang wrote.
Huang said that since the 1970s, the Indian military has established and expanded the size and personnel of the mountain army on a large-scale, and also plans to create a mountain strike force of more than 50,000 troops.
Giving the example of the Siachen Glacier, Huang wrote: “The Indian army has set up hundreds of outposts in the Siachen Glacier area with an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, with 6,000 to 7,000 fighters stationed. The highest post has reached 6,749 metres.”
Huang didn’t mention the source of the information but went on to give a list of weaponry that the Indian army has deployed in the mountains suitable to high-altitude battles.
“In terms of equipment, the Indian military, through procurement from abroad and domestic research and development, has equipped a large number of main battle weapons adapted to the combat environment of the plateau and mountains.”
“The Indian military has also spent heavily on advanced heavy equipment from the US including the M777, the world’s lightest 155mm-towed howitzer, and the Chinook heavy transport helicopter that lifts the gun, to boost its fire support and anti-armour capabilities”.
Huang also mentioned the high-calibre sniper rifles that Indian soldiers deployed at high-altitudes are now equipped with.
The author also listed shortcomings of the Indian army mountain troops including lack of self-sufficiency in weaponry and ammunition especially needed for western weaponry.
“In addition, there are many conflicts and differences between the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. This has also led the Indian Army to decide to equip its own US-made AH-64E Longbow Apache attack helicopters instead of relying entirely on airfield support from the air force,” Huang wrote.
Incidentally, India and the US signed an estimated $800 million contract in February this year in New Delhi for the delivery of six Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters to the Indian Army’s Aviation Corps (AAC).