The K-9 Vajra Howitzers deployed in Ladakh

Indian artillery guns will once again start to blaze in eastern Ladakh, as the Indian government has approved the renotification of the Mandal Thang Field Firing Range (MTFFR) in the Galwan Valley.

Simultaneously, the Asan firing range, situated at the juncture of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, has also received the nod for renewal.

Both these approvals were sanctioned by the Union Environment ministry's green panels late last month.

The MTFFR holds immense strategic value due to its proximity to the sensitive Eastern Ladakh region, bordering Aksai Chin.

Situated approximately 110 km from Durbuk on the Durbuk-Shyok-DBO (DS-DBO) road, this artillery training and firing range is located in the Galwan valley, which was the epicenter of the 2020 skirmishes with Chinese forces.

Moreover, it also serves as a reminder to China, of the ferocity of the counter-attack carried out by Indian soldiers, and the decisive thrashing suffered by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers following the ambush by a significantly larger contingent of PLA forces.

The Indian counter-attack resulted in the Chinese losing dozens of PLA soldiers, while the Indian Army suffered a loss of 20 soldiers from the 6th Bihar Regiment.

Though the MTFFR in the Karakoram sanctuary became operational only in 2017, it had been extensively utilised for testing artillery, infantry, armored, and mechanised infantry weapons.

However, it had been dormant since 5 March 2022, due to the expiration of its lease, necessitating fresh governmental permissions.

This led the Indian Army to halt all its training activities in the region, a development conveyed to the green ministry in a proposal earlier this year.

Given the continued sensitivities in Eastern Ladakh, the defence forces had asked for its re-notification as an FFR, underscoring the need to maintain preparedness for unforeseen contingencies.

The MTFFR is an extremely important firing range since it is the only firing range in eastern Ladakh for artillery firing and training.

Moreover, its closeness to the operational sector facilitates the maintenance of the required operational readiness, thereby enabling the Army to counter potential threats.

It also offers a training ground for integrated exercises of all military divisions close to the deployment regions.

On 17 July 2023, the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) endorsed the usage of 24,281 hectares from the Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuary for MTFFR purposes.

Heeding the Wildlife Institute of India's counsel, the NBWL instructed the defense forces to carefully manage ammunition waste, divert the majority of vehicular traffic away from rivers, oversee waste management, and minimize any adverse effects on the flora and fauna within the cold desert sanctuary.

The clearance also coincided with India's commencement of high trajectory firing drills at the MTFFR, which were scheduled from 31 July to 5 August.

In parallel, the Asan Field Firing Range, which stretches across Dehradun district of Uttarakhand and Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, has also been given the green signal.

The Forest Advisory Committee, the highest body for forest clearances at the Centre, has sanctioned over 16,839.40 hectares of reserve forest land for the Asan Field Firing Range.