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Indian Army has failed to invest in science to tackle Siachen
For the Indian space and defence establishment Siachen is a challenge, where the nation has invested no money so far. It is final frontier, where troops sit on ice at over 20,000 feet and a little less than a thousand men had already died in Siachen ever since the Indian Army moved into it in the summer of 84.
They have died without firing a shot as the enemy was the weather and the treacherous slopes. The latest incident, in which 10 Indian soldiers died including Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad, of 19 Madras Regiment, whose miraculous survival for a few days after an avalanche hit an Army camp on the Siachen Glacier transfixed the nation, has brought back into sharp focus the challenges of military deployment there at Siachen.

Siachen is a battle field which tests the imagination and those who have never been trapped in snow will not know what it is like out there.

The working conditions at Siachen are harsh. Soldiers prefer to eat less so that they do not have to go to the toilet. They live in an igloo heated with a kerosene lamp and they have to go out often. This is where foreign experts feel that the Indian Army needs to do a rethink on Siachen and it will be a military one backed by technology.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has rightly voiced the predicament India is in. If the Indian Army leaves Siachen the advantage it gives in a war situation will be over and the Pakistanis cannot be trusted. They may talk of demilitarisation today but tomorrow the situation maybe far different and they could also involve the Chinese in a Himalayan adventure. So can India take a lesson from the experience of other armies to minimise its casualties in the field there?

For a long time a debate has been raging on the use of robots in defence and more than 90 nations use military robotics to minimise human casualties and most of these are spin offs of the space programme and growing advances in artificial intelligence. The nations range from China to UK and the USA, which according to rumours is even working on the terminator technology and even the Iron Man suit, which was the stuff of comics in the 1990s.

India is a nation which could easily fit in the population of more than 20 Saudi Arabias. But that does not mean that human life is cheap. A highly trained soldier like the heroes of the Madras Regiment are invaluable. So what is the technology and can this help?

The Mark I was the first tank and the first bomber plane came a hundred years ago and together they changed the way wars were fought. The use of armour and increasing the striking range of a weapon were always the hall mark of giving more strength to a soldier but the knights of Europe would have been no match for a Panzer tank and similarly a missile launcher outclasses a crossbow. Just as a soldier in the 1962 war failed with an Enfield rifle against the machine gun, so are technological changes swamping down on old methods to fight a war.

Today the drone is far ahead of the German V2 rockets and there are others too that have come to help the infantryman in the field of war especially where conditions are particularly hostile.

The Polar Stations

Both the former Soviet Union now Russia and the USA have specialised in setting up research and military centres in the Antartic and Artic regions where weather conditions can be compared to the freezing cold of the Siachen Glacier. These stations built on struts on the snow have both wind turbines, solar panels and diesel gensets to provide them with power and heating. Can this technology be replicated for housing soldiers in Siachen especially since there has been no hostile activity in the area for the last few decades?

Space technology

Few may know it but the aluminium foil that we use today would never have been invented had it not been for the space missions and the Apollo missions made the medical invention of the pacemaker possible. The use of foil was envisaged for a very different reason in outer space and it is today used to pack tiffin for children who carry the humble roti - the universal symbol of India's sustenance - with them to school everyday wrapped in it.

Similarly a very small and light and powerful and durable battery had to be invented to run gadgets on the moon. This advancement in battery technology led to the invention of the pacemaker. The Tesla car company is also in the process of setting up a battery that could take it a 100 km without recharging. Theoretically speaking if NASA can make a Mars Rover for Mars and snow scooters exist in the Alps then why can't the Indian Army make a Rover for Siachen?

The Terminators

The day of the drones and the robots is here. The PD-100 Black Hornet is the size of a hummingbird, smaller than a sparrow and weighs less than 20 grams, it will fly around and allow a soldier to see what lies around the corner without having to expose him to a sniper or an enemy. It can fly up to a five storey building and check out the windows. Then there is a Zephyr, this is a solar-powered drone and has a 74-foot wingspan, which is its power source and it can stay in the air for more than a week. While early robots were only simple cameras flying high, these ones are intelligent too.

They can take off and land on their own and carry sensors, which can convey several signals to humans and even decipher complicated ones. The Royal Air Force is supposed to be testing a system called the Taranis which has sophisticated target selection software, which can distinguish between an enemy and a friend. Finally there is the Pack Bot. This is a 42-pound robot the size of a lawn mower and has an array of cameras and sensors, as well as an arm with four joints.

It moves using four tiny treads, which allow it to roll forward and backward. Its name was inspired by Isaac Asimov's science-fiction classic I, Robot. It has operated in Iraq and Afghanistan and its job is to eliminate mines and crude explosive devices so that the soldier's life is not endangered. Can this robot operate in Siachen and accompany soldiers so that it can dig them out of snow traps?

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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