China has so far wanted to discuss Pangong Tso but not other areas like Depsang Plains where its troops are in a stand-off with India

NEW DELHI: The Indian Army has bought 17 flat bottomed boats, the majority of them to be deployed at the Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh for rapid deployment of troops in case of contingencies.

The development comes following the months-long standoff with China at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) last year.

While both India and China disengaged from the contentious Pangong Tso area in March this year — after multiple rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic level between the two countries — there has been no further breakthrough, with China refusing to pull back its troops from Hot Springs and Gogra Post.

According to top defence sources, the boats will be procured from Goa-based Aquarius Shipyard Pvt Ltd, the shipyard that built the sailing vessel Thuriya on which Indian Navy’s Commander Abhilash Tomy embarked on the prestigious Golden Globe race from France in 2018.

Similar boats are already in service with the Indian Navy, the sources added.

The delivery of the first few boats has already begun and is set to be completed by September. A majority of them will be inducted in eastern Ladakh for now. The rest could be deployed at other locations, as and when required.

The boats, measuring 35 feet in length, will have the capacity to carry about 20-22 people, including crew. They can move at a speed of 20 knots, which is approximately 37 kmph. A source said that while the boats have not been fitted with any weapons at present, they could be equipped with light weapons when needed in the future.

“Made of fibreglass, they would ferry troops across the lake, cutting short earlier time lost while navigating the hilly tracks around the lake,” the source added.

Ladakh Impetus

With the ongoing stalemate at the LAC, the Army is building on its capabilities and infrastructure in the region.

In January, the Army had finalised the procurement of 12 high-performance patrol boats to enhance its surveillance of the Pangong Tso Lake and other large water bodies in eastern Ladakh.

The contract for these 12 patrol boats was inked with Goa Shipyard Ltd, a state-run public sector undertaking, with deliveries set to begin by May this year.

A defence officer explained that the fast patrol boats are required to dominate the lake and reach any enemy boats at the earliest.

“Troop-carrying-boats would be used to move troops and equipment and deploy them on the lake bank in a faster time frame, either to reinforce existing troops there or for fresh deployments,” the officer said.

This is an advantage since traversing along the roads and tracks on the periphery of the lake takes much more time due to terrain friction, the officer said. With no further disengagement at eastern Ladakh in the last few months, both countries have maintained a high density of troops in the region.

India has kept a heavy troop deployment in the region for any eventuality and reorganised its formations along the LAC for long-term deployment, keeping in view the threat perceptions from the Chinese troops.