It is axiomatic that if India is raising additional Mountain Divisions to strengthen the Line of Actual Control with China in the high Himalayas it should also build all-weather accommodation with modern facilities for soldiers to live and operate from.
More so when the Ministry of Defence is contemplating the Army’s suggestion of creating ammunition dumps to compensate for the delays in erecting infrastructure like roads and bridges to ensure that the troops can fight over extended periods even if replenishments are delayed in transit.
Since they are to be built in the early decades of the 21st century it should be expected that the proposed all-weather bunkers will be modern in their structure and capabilities and cater to “the entire spectrum of warfare” which would include asymmetric combat, night warfare, and the nuclear, biological and chemical dimension.
That these bunkers should have a field of view equal to the rifle range of its occupants is a foregone ingredient without sticking out like sore thumbs and be inviting targets.
Most of the structure should be underground, so constructed as to be not immediately visible or different from the rest of the landscape.
Nonetheless, each bunker should be so placed so as to be able to dominate large stretches of territory in as close to a 360 degree of field of view as possible.
That there is an urgency in the requirement for NBC-proof structures is seen in the quick acceptance and early implementation of projects to set up such structures in landscapes dealing with the threat from Pakistan in Punjab and Rajasthan sectors.
There, the Ministry of Defence has set up underground igloo-type pre-fabricated domed structures to accommodate up to 30 soldiers to deal with the eventuality of being able to deploy troops soon after a nuclear attack. In the India-China context too there is need to create facilities that would in the years to come deal with the full spectrum of warfare.
However, what has been set up in the context of Pakistan is not the kind of bunker that is the first point of contact along the international border or the Line of Control.
They are placed well away from these locations and are intended to provide shelter rather than be sentry-posts against infiltration. The ones proposed to be set up along the Line of Actual Control must be multipurpose NBC shelters and sentry-posts capable of detecting and responding to a terrestrial threat
Built on the principle of ‘worst-case scenario’ the proposed all-weather bunkers along the LAC if they cater to the most powerful threat as the baseline, would also be able to withstand and give the Indian soldier an opportunity to respond to threats of the other conventional as well as unconventional types.
The NBC major requirement is to provide an uncontaminated supply of air for routine breathing of up to 40 men or the equivalent of a platoon of the Indian Army hierarchy.
That it should be underground is the prime requirement and it should contain facilities for decontamination of NBC elements if and when required.
In the conventional/guerrilla warfare mode it should be able to maintain 24X7 surveillance of the surrounding hinterland without having to set out, or, if in patrol duty, its troops do so under the constant watchful eye of the sentry on duty in the bunker.
This kind of surveillance can only be provided by the periscope that the Indian Navy uses in its submarines. A land-based periscope must be fitted with night vision devices as well as panoramic capabilities covering preferably 360 degrees of view.
Occupants should be able to fire their weapons from inside their bunkers, the above-ground portion of which could be protected with the Jackal light armor indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
In fact the many laboratories of the DRDO need to be tasked with creating an underground structure that is ergonomically comfortable for a large body of troops in sleep, awake, relaxed and combat-ready conditions.
Toilet facilities and waste disposal should be top problems to resolve as well as the provision of 24-hour water and electricity so as to be able to provide the air conditioning appropriate to the ambient temperature.
Solar panels or, better still, wind-energy turbines should be employed to give proper comfort and manage the several sensors, decontamination equipment, kitchen and living requirements.
Given that the Chief of Army Staff has also indicated a requirement for creating ammunitions dumps all along the Line of Actual Control, they can also be constructed within close proximity of the bunkers for troops with appropriate firewalls and blast-deflection civil engineering works.
This is just in case there is an accident and the dump blows up or gets a direct hit with enemy fire. Underground tunnels could give access between dump and bunkers so that replenishments can be accessed quickly even while keeping a certain distance between the two for safety of the men in the bunker.
It should go without saying that the forward bunkers be connected with others along the LAC so that there is quick exchange of information about developments in real-time as well as with command headquarters to establish a loop between commander and shooters.
An appropriate distribution of Long Range Reconnaissance and Observation Systems (LORROS) to look deep inside the Tibet Autonomous Region should be established as well.
Having said this, it is also necessary to warn that the very act of setting up these bunkers could trigger a shooting war with China as happened recently with Pakistan along the Line of Control.
In the Mehndhar Sector the Pakistani troops objected to the setting up of a new bunker even though it was well inside Indian territory and not facing the Pakistani posts.
Something similar should be expected from the Chinese as well particularly in the background that almost coinciding with what happened with the Pakistanis the Chinese had come up to the LAC and demolished shelters made of stones that are occupied by troops on patrol.
It needs also to be remembered that setting up such bunkers along the LAC has the same implications as the much-maligned Jawaharlal Nehru’s “forward policy” when he ordered the deployment of Indian troops according to his perception of the border between India and China which India acquired as legacy from the British.
That the Chinese have been assertive about Indian presence in various segments of the Line of Actual Control, particularly that in the Ladakh sector through which it has built the Aksai Chin road, has been obvious over the years in the manner in which it objected to India building a road on its side or, as in the case of the destruction/dismantling of stone huts which is intended to establish hegemony in the region.
It would be appropriate that when the bunker building begins the Indian armed forces are on alert to any adverse reaction from China which clearly is not comfortable with an eyeball-to-eyeball situation as it prevails in Nathu La.
The issue can be sought to be settled at flag meetings so that India can exercise its right to set up such facilities for its troops as has been done by China on its side.
In any case if the Chinese object, India should go ahead after bringing up its artillery and improving its firepower to give an appropriate reply if the situation turns ugly. Not doing so would mean that India has buckled under coercive diplomacy by China.