(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
Photos of the Pangong Tso, taken by me from an army helicopter. The Indian Army is now deploying 12-tonne Fast Interceptor Boats to patrol on more equal terms with Chinese troops on the lake.
Below those are photos of the 5-tonne Fast Interceptor Boats that GRSE, Kolkata is building for coastal police stations. India will now deploy 12-tonne versions of these boats, also built in GRSE, for patrolling the 5-km maritime Line of Actual Control
Below the boat photos, an aerial photo looking down at the Chang La pass, more than 17,000 feet high, over which the boats will have to be taken to the Pangong Tso. The helicopter, flying over the Chang La pass, is at an altitude of close to 19,000 feet.)
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Sept 09
Indian soldiers, who patrolled the stunningly beautiful Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, rarely got the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. As their vintage assault boats approached the Line of Actual Control with China (two thirds of the 134-kilometer long lake is under Chinese control) sleek Chinese speedboats would surge towards them, turning sharply away at the last minute to strike a glancing blow that rocked the Indian boats.
Indian soldiers were sometimes thrown out of their boats by the impact, but they had to bear the indignity. Since 1993, when China and India signed an Agreement on Peace and Tranquillity, not a shot has been fired on the LAC.
To restrain the Chinese boat-bumpers, India equipped its lake patrols a couple of years back with bigger, more rugged, army assault boats. But, even if the bumping stopped, the Chinese boats still ran rings around the Indians.
Now, the Pangong Tso playing field will become more level. The army will soon patrol in modern, indigenously-built Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs) that can travel faster than the Chinese boats, while carrying 16 fully equipped jawans to respond to a crisis.
Rear Admiral KC Sekhar, Chairman and Managing Director of the public sector Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, confirmed to Business Standard, “We have received a Request for Proposal (RfP) from the army. They want 17 FIBs for deployment in a high altitude, extreme cold environment. We have prepared a design which we hope will be accepted.”
Sources in the army confirm that the boats will be deployed on the Pangong Tso.
GRSE is offering the army a modified version of the 12-tonne FIB it is building for the Home Ministry. Built of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), and capable of a scorching 38 knots (70 kmph), these FIBs were designed by Greek shipbuilder, Motomarine. GRSE bought this design, along with that of a smaller 5-tonne FIB, for building 78 such boats by September 2010 for coastal police forces of states along the Bay of Bengal. Goa Shipyard Limited is simultaneously building the same boats for the Arabian Sea coast.
GRSE’s Deputy General Manager (Design), JN Roy, says the army’s requirements are specific, but they can be quickly met. “These boats must be capable of operating in a bitterly cold, high-altitude environment, unlike the humid tropical climate of the coast. [The Pangong Tso is at 13,900 feet] The army boats also need higher endurance, allowing them to remain on station longer. And finally, we will build a cabin for the 16 soldiers on each boat, providing protection from the weather as well as from small arms fire.”
Meanwhile, the army is wondering where they can hold trials for the FIBs; conveying them all the way to Pangong Tso would involve too much expense and effort.