The Indian Army will construct modular, 3D-printed, next generation bunkers to provide better protection to front-line soldiers guarding the country’s border with China in the Ladakh sector, create underground facilities for the storage of ammunition at forward locations along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and build a raft of new roads, bridges and tunnels as part of an overarching infrastructure push to strengthen its capabilities in the sensitive sector at a time of a lingering border standoff with the neighbour, officials familiar with the matter said, asking not to be named.
The army calls them modern bunkers and they will be located near LAC next to the border. They will be capable of withstand direct hits from a tank shell. One of the officials mentioned above, who tracks infrastructure development for forward areas, stated that the bunkers will be 3D printed permanent defences. They are named after the 3D printing technology used to make them. The material is a proprietary mix of quick drying concrete with admixture.
For at least several years, the US Army has used 3D printers for bunker creation.
“These defences are very strong and can withstand a direct hit from a T-90 tank,” the official said. “Trials have already been conducted in the western sector (Rajasthan) and eastern Ladakh. Construction of permanent defences along LAC will begin next year.” This project (3D permanent defences) is being implemented by the Corps of Engineers. He said that the structure’s heaviest part, which weighs 40kg, can be moved easily by two soldiers.
Bunker’s advantages include durability and lightness. In collaboration with the IITs of Gandhinagar, Madras, the army is building the modules. The printers are available to the technology startups that are part the incubation centers of the two IITs. HT learned that the 3D printers will soon be moved to Ladakh in order to make bunkers. This will reduce transportation costs and time.
The other benefit is speed — a bunker can be printed in a matter of hours. “That’s the real advantage. The bunkers can be churned out very quickly depending on the army’s requirements,” the official cited above said.
The army has already built 20 3D-printed bunkers, but it will soon build hundreds in Ladakh.
To be sure, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has also ramped up infrastructure across LAC after the border standoff erupted in May 2020. The border standoff between India & China is now in its third anniversary. A full resolution is still not in sight despite partial success in disengaging rival troops from certain friction areas on LAC. Talks are currently underway to end the impasse that has shadowed bilateral relations.
In eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army has been gradually increasing infrastructure. “Habitat (including modular shelters) and technical storage for 22,000 troops and approximately 450 tanks/artillery guns have been constructed after the Galwan Valley skirmish in June 2020. Focus is now on construction of permanent defences and other infrastructure to improve defence preparedness,” said a second official.
Despite four rounds in disengagement from Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso (PP-17A), and Hot Springs (PP-15), each of the Indian or Chinese armies still has more than 60,000 soldiers and advanced weaponry deployed to the Ladakh theatre. The Indian Army’s infrastructure push is, however, not limited to the Ladakh sector, and encompasses the border with China in the central (Uttarakhand) and eastern sectors (Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh) where several road, tunnel and habitat projects are underway, the second official said.
In the eastern and central sectors, modular shelters are being planned that are temperature controlled, movable, and similar to those in Ladakh. Major projects being pursued to improve connectivity in the eastern sector include the 2,000-km Arunachal frontier highway, also known as the Mago-Thingbu-Vijaynagar border highway, the officials said. This project will likely cost around $3.5 million. ₹40,000 crore.
While the Indian and Chinese armies have had 16 rounds of military talks, problems at Depsang sector in Daulet Beg Oldi and Charding nullah Junction (CNJ), in Demchok sectors are still being negotiated. According to officials, infrastructure development in eastern Ladakh includes Demchok as well as areas around the Hot Springs sector.
They said that newly inducted equipment, such as spider excavators, heavy excavators, and light crawler rock drills, has helped speed up critical projects. The ongoing projects in Ladakh including upgrading bridges on the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DS-DBO) road that provides connectivity to the country’s northern-most outpost, Daulat Beg Oldi.
“We have achieved more in terms of infrastructure development during the last two years than we did in the two decades preceding the border standoff. It is important to keep our focus on infrastructure development to mitigate the Chinese challenge,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).
According to officials, the army uses the same 3D printing process for creating living shelters for soldiers. According to them, four shelters with double floors have been constructed in the eastern sector. They can accommodate 64 soldiers.