Leh – Ladakh is a mountainous area with alitutdes varying from an altitude of 14000 to 18000 feet. India and China share a long border in this inhospitable terrain for a distance of over 4000 kms. Post 1962 war, efforts were undertaken to improve and modernize the infrastructure along the border. Keeping in view the open spaces of terrain and threat scenario it was felt that Mechanised Forces can be suitably employed in these sectors. Such induction demanded prior trials of the equipment to be fielded in these areas.
The task given by the COAS, Gen K Sundarji, PVSM, Chief of Army Staff and Lt Gen Ashok Handoo, GOC in C Northern Command was to carry out trials in a realistic manner and to take the armoured vehicles on to various heights to draw conclusions on employability of the mechanised forces in this area. The task of conducting trials in the the inhospitable and rugged terrain of Leh was very challenging, full of risks and one which was to be carried out with the right mix of courage and caution.
As a Major then, I was appointed Officer in Charge Trials. The trial team consisted of three officers, 6 JCOs and 67 OR. The equipment consisting of BMPs, BRDMs, ARVs and number of B Vehicles were inducted during mid-1986. The induction to Leh was done in the transport aircrafts of Indian Air Force. It was the first time in the history of World that Air Force and Army operated at High Altitude terrain under subzero temperature. After acclimatization of 10- 12 days at Leh, the trial team was divided into two sub teams. First team proceeded towards Nyoma under Major DS Sandhu and the second team consisting of concentrated at Tangste under Major PK Tripathi. All the vehicles moved from Leh to the respective Iocations on tracks and reached their respective Iocations.
The trials were successfully carried out in various Brigade sectors in difficult terrain with steep climbs / descents and inclement weather conditions. The trial team had to face numerous difficulties while crossing of nullahs / rivers, obstacles by way of big boulders, marshes and other terrain conditions.
OIC trials exercising initiative took the risk to go towards Tso Moriri Lake. Major DS Sandhu while proceeding to lake realised that to go down towards the Tso Moriri will be difficult. The terrain being inhospitable and having covered some distance in the nulah it was difficult to turn back and only option left was to continue ahead. The slope was very steep and the Nullah was narrow and winding. At around 1100 hours while attempting to go down, the right track of the BMP got shed, it started raining and snowing. After assessing the situation and taking lot of courage, the OIC trials briefed the five men and the officer (Major DK Bansal) of Ladakh Scouts who was accompanying Major DS Sandhu to repair the vehicles. After a hard day’s labour, the BMP was put on track again. Finally the team reached the Southern Bank of Tso Moriri Lake at around 2000 hrs. Next day BMPs started moving towards the North of Tso Moriri Lake, this area was very difficult to negotiate being marshy. Major Bansal got injured and it was essential to take him to nearest medical post. After travelling some distance, Major DS Sandhu saw a 30 Kms long and 3 to 8 kms wide lake. It was a difficult decision to take to swim across the lake. The distance estimated of the water width of this particular spot was about 800 metres but later once BMPs started floating in the lake, it clocked 2.5 kms on the BMP.
Successful trials were also carried out in this sector In Aug 1986, Col KeshwaNand, Commandant joined to see the progress of trials. A flotation with minimum safety arrangements was carried out by Major PK Tripathi with BMPs and BRDMs in Pangangtso Lake too.
The first phase of the trials was completed by September 1986 and efficacy of equipment was validated by the trial team. It was a matter of pride for the youngest Unit of Mechanised Infantry to be given the honour to be first Mechanised Infantry Battalion to be inducted in Leh.