Tawang is one of the most heavily defended regions along the 3,488-km LAC with China, which claims it as ‘South Tibet’ and could well be its next target after eastern Ladakh if things go south along the border. Senior officers say the Army is “well-poised to hold the line” with “a very high density of troops”, a robust surveillance mechanism and high-volume firepower ranging from the old but reliable 105mm field guns and 155mm Bofors to the spanking new M-777 ultra-light howitzers. There is a lot of ‘jugaad’ as well. The first regiment of the upgraded version of L-70 air defence guns of the 1960s vintage, backed by Flycatcher radars, have been deployed in Tawang forward locations.
“The legacy L-70 guns have been converted into potent weapons against low-level aerial threats like UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), combat UAVs and attack helicopters,” said Captain Sariya Abbasi of the Army Air Defence at a forward location.
The range of the L-70 guns is restricted to just about 3.5-km but they could also be an effective counter against drone swarms in the future with their “predictive” firing. The long-range firepower comes from the Bofors (strike range of 24-30 km) and M-777 (30-35 km) howitzers.
(Captain Sariya Abbasi briefs media personnel on the upgraded L-70 air defence guns deployed at forward location along the LAC in Tawang on Wednesday. The guns can take on drone swarms)
“The Bofors, which proved their worth in the 1999 Kargil conflict, have very good utility in high-altitude areas. The new M-777s are a big shot in arm because they can be swiftly transported by Chinook helicopters from one valley to another in Arunachal,” said an artillery officer, at a gun position located at an altitude of 13,500 feet in the Tawang sector.
As one gets closer to the LAC, the Army has established “integrated defended localities”, with a maze of fortified bunkers for infantry soldiers and artillery observation posts to direct fire on enemy tanks and other mechanised formations from the rear positions.
At one such locality on Assam Hill, barely 2.5-km from the frontier, Tawang Brigade commander Brigadier Vijay Jagtap said, “This is where battles take place and access is denied to enemies.”
An officer deployed there, Major Rufus Johnson, in turn, said, “Our defences are constructed in such a manner that from wherever the enemy attacks, it will be thwarted. This feature dominates access routes to the Tawang town, which is 35 km away by road. We will not allow anyone to progress ahead from here.” Tawang and Walong, incidentally, bore the brunt of the Chinese attack during the 1962 war in the eastern sector.
As the rickety road reaches up to the Bum La at an altitude of 14,980 feet, the border meeting point on the Chinese side is clearly visible, with a well-constructed road leading right up to it. China’s highways and metal roads lead right up to its forward posts. Though India has made a lot of progress in developing border infrastructure, it still has some way to go to catch up.
But the confidence is high. “Our aim is not to show aggression, handle situations in a mature manner, and maintain peace and tranquillity. Having said that, we are ensuring that our preparedness, our ability to react to any contingency remains very high,” said Eastern Army Command chief Lt-General Manoj Pande on Tuesday.