Eastern Ladakh ‘faceoff’: India, China begin disengagement in Gogra-Hotsprings PP-15
New Delhi: In a major development, the Indian and Chinese armies on Thursday announced that they have started to disengage from the Gogra-Hotsprings area in eastern Ladakh, marking an end to an over two-year stand-off in the Patrolling Point 15.
The beginning of the disengagement process was an outcome of the 16th round of high-level military talks in July, according to a joint statement by the two armies.
“On 8th September 2022, according to the consensus reached in the 16th round of India China Corps Commander level meeting, the Indian and Chinese troops in the area of Gogra-Hotsprings (PP-15) have begun to disengage in a coordinated and planned way, which is conducive to the peace and tranquility in the border areas,” the statement said.
The announcement of the disengagement process comes around a week ahead of the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Uzbekistan which is set to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
There is speculation that there could be a bilateral meeting between the two leaders. However, there is no official word on such a possibility.
Meanwhile, the Indian Army has deployed a significant number of easily transportable M-777 ultra-light howitzers in mountainous regions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh, military officials said.
The Army’s bolstering of firepower in the forward locations of Arunachal Pradesh comes after the howitzers were deployed in several sensitive areas in the Ladakh sector amid the lingering border standoff with China.
India has been ramping up its overall military might in all strategically key areas along the nearly 3,500-km-long LAC after the Galwan Valley clash in June 2020 that triggered a major escalation in tensions between the Indian and Chinese armies.
Army officials said the deployment of M-777 howitzers coupled with additional air assets including unmanned aerial vehicles, military aircraft and surveillance equipment has enhanced India’s military preparedness in the Arunachal Pradesh sector.
The Army faced the difficulty of transporting heavy artillery guns in the mountainous regions but the deployment of ultra-light howitzers has addressed the challenge.
“The ultra-light M-777 can be transported quickly in Chinook helicopters. We now have the flexibility of quickly moving them from one place to another based on operational requirements,” a senior official told PTI.
“Now we are in a much better position to deal with any eventualities,” he added.
The Army deployed M-777 guns in Bum-La last year but now the howitzers are being pressed into service in Arunachal Pradesh’s RALP area, comprising several key mountainous regions.
The M-777 artillery guns, having a maximum range of 30 km and manufactured by the BAE Systems, were first received by the Army in 2018. The procurement had come after a 30-year wait for new artillery guns since the Bofors scandal.
India ordered 145 M-777 guns from the US under a USD 750 million deal in 2016.
The addition of upgraded L70 air defence guns to the existing Bofors guns in the forward locations in Arunachal Pradesh also added additional might to the Army’s combat prowess.
The L-70 guns were originally manufactured by Swedish defence firm Bofors AB in the 1950s and India started inducting over 1,000 of them in the 1960s.
The guns have been upgraded by state-run Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL).
The Army has taken a series of measures to boost its operational capabilities in the eastern sector bordering China.
The Army has been putting an equal amount of focus on enhancing operational capability in the Northern as well as eastern sectors, officials said.
The eastern Ladakh border standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries erupted on May 5, 2020, following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry.
The tension escalated following a deadly clash in Galwan Valley.
As a result of a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process in the Gogra area and the north and south banks of the Pangong lake last year.
The last round of military talks in July ended in a stalemate as there was no forward movement in ending the standoff in remaining friction points in the region.
Each side currently has around 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the sensitive sector.