Amid the ongoing stand-off with China, Ladhak has been witnessing a heavy deployment of tanks and armoured vehicles.
The Army is modifying tank transporters to improve its performance at high altitude. The Army is procuring high altitude kits to improve the engine performance of the Tatra 8×8 tractor manufactured by BHEL, that hauls the tank transporter trailer.
“While the kits would be procured commercially, these would be retrofitted by local field workshops of the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers,” said sources.
“The Army has already been employing high altitude performance-enhancing kits on various types of vehicles. Since the numbers have now increased, additional numbers are required to maintain operational efficiency,” said an officer.
In the summers, a substantial number of armoured vehicles, including T-90 tanks and BMP mechanized infantry combat vehicles are airlifted to eastern Ladakh to beef-up capability against the Chinese. This also requires additional support elements to be brought in.
In May, the Army had initiated a process for acquiring 36 new 8×8 tractors, that could haul loads up to 70 tonnes.
Also, a move is underway to procure light tanks in 20-25 tonnes category—similar to those being used by China—that could be deployed in high altitude areas.
These would be roughly half the weight of the 45-tonne T-90.
The Army had three regiments of T-72 in Ladakh which were deployed earlier over a period of time.
As the stand-off erupted, additional mechanized units from the western and central sectors were rushed up. Though the terrain in Ladakh is highly rugged, there are a few flatter areas like Depsang, Chushul and Demchok where armoured elements can be deployed.
China too has deployed mechanised forces in the area.
While some light vehicles are operating at heights of around 20,000 feet, tank transporters in the region are generally employed at altitudes up to 15,000 feet.
Steep inclines, low temperatures and rarified air at that height affect engine performance.
“In such environmental conditions problems such as loss of power and poor thermal efficiency in all types of vehicles crop up. Given the huge mass and large dimensions of a tractor-trailer and the limited manoeuvring area available, high engine performance becomes imperative,” an engineer said. Fuel combustion and consumption is another issue with conventional engines.
In fact, last year a paper on ‘Impact of High-Altitude on Truck’s Climbing Speed: A case study in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Area in China,’ in the Journal of Advanced Transportation, a Canada-based peer-reviewed international publication said that within the altitude range of 10,000—16,000 feet, the altitude had an obvious influence on the truck’s decelerating and accelerating performance.
The truck’s speed decreased faster on steep grades and increased slower on gentle grades with the increase of the altitude.
Pointing out, that the stable speed that the truck could maintain on a certain grade was lower at a higher altitude, the paper added that compared with the theoretical crawl speed, a negative effect of altitude change was found on the truck’s climbing performance.