Tipu Sultan, Maharana Pratap and Aurangzeb are surveying the vast open valleys hugging the mountain ranges of eastern Ladakh, ready to counter any threat from China, which lies just across the border. If you are wondering how the three rulers, separated by hundreds of years, have come together, these are the names of three tanks of a regiment the Indian Army has positioned about six to eight months ago in eastern Ladakh.
India did briefly use tanks here in the 1962 India-China war (five were air dropped) but they were withdrawn after the humiliating defeat. Now, the tanks of the Indian Army are back in Eastern Ladakh for good.
For strategic and security reasons, we will not identify the tank base in Eastern Ladakh just a few kilometres from the India-China border. Nearly 100 tanks have been positioned near the border; more are expected soon. “The vast flat valleys along the mountain ranges allow for armoured movement; besides, there has been an increase in the force levels across the border as well,” a senior officer who didn’t want to be identified said.
But maintaining tanks in these heights isn’t easy. “The air is rarified and temperatures go down to -45 degree Celsius, these affect the performance of the tanks,” Colonel Vijay Dalal who commands the tank unit said. The Indian military uses special lubricants and fuel to keep the tanks running, he said, and added that at least twice every night, the engines are revved-up to keep the systems in order. “It is indeed a very difficult task, but we have worked out a process to overcome these challenges,” he said as a set of three tanks maneuvered into potential attack positions.
The weather and the terrain are exacting for the soldiers. The air, thin in oxygen, makes it difficult to breathe. The fierce winds amplify the chill. The accidental touch of a piece of metal can lead to chilblains and other injuries. “We work, therefore the machine works,” quipped Major S Singh, the second-in-command of the unit who
christened his tank Tipu Sultan.
With repeated incursions at different points of the border, China has signalled its aggression. Its hefty investments in roads and airstrips have left India playing catch up in strategically crucial regions. The positioning of the tanks is meant to prove that India is determined to assert its authority and rights over parts that China tries to claim as its own.