Homeland Security

Unsung Heroes: Supplying Oil To The Siachen
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Issue Vol. 31.2 Apr-Jun 2016 | Date : 02 May , 2017

AWS Tank Truck Trail (Photo Courtesy: Arun Khanna)

Few people know that a massive and challenging logistics supply chain exercise for transporting various petroleum products (POL), commonly known as Advance Winter Stocking (AWS), is undertaken jointly every year within a limited period of hundred days between May and September. This joint exercise of victualling the forces, civilians and upcoming infrastructure projects in Jammu and Kashmir, is completed jointly by Indian Oil (the Maharatna behemoth), the Indian Army – the gallant sentinels of the nation and Border Roads Organisation – an entity where the talent of both – the Corps of Engineers of Indian army and civilians – complement each other.

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say
That For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Just when towards the end of March every year, as the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere is crossing over the Vernal equinox during its eternal elliptical journey around the sun, another gargantuan activity of a different kind is about to unfold yet again to ensure that our Northern borders remain free from any ill-conceived misadventure. While most plain dwelling civilians start stowing away their woolens in the attic and begin dusting the air conditioners, probably little thought is spared on how the Indian soldier of the world’s third largest army is keeping himself warm while guarding the frontier at Siachen in near Arctic climatic conditions.

Successful culmination of this task ensures POL availability during extreme winter months to our unsung heroes…

Few people know that a massive and challenging logistics supply chain exercise for transporting various petroleum products (POL), commonly known as Advance Winter Stocking (AWS), is undertaken jointly every year within a limited period of hundred days between May and September. This joint exercise of victualling the forces, civilians and upcoming infrastructure projects in Jammu and Kashmir, is completed jointly by Indian Oil (the Maharatna behemoth), the Indian Army – the gallant sentinels of the nation and Border Roads Organisation – an entity where the talent of both – the Corps of Engineers of Indian army and civilians – complement each other.

Successful culmination of this task ensures POL availability during extreme winter months to our unsung heroes when this rugged region, famous for highest passes, beautiful lakes and rocky ravines, becomes inaccessible to the rest of the world. It’s a dream drive for an adventure traveller if weather is in its gentle mood.

Modern technology has thrown up a plethora of derivatives in the hydrocarbon chain of petroleum products touching our everyday lives in one form or the other. But akin to the five elements of air, water, fire, sky and the Earth are Petrol, Diesel, Kerosene, Cooking Gas (LPG) and Aviation Turbine Fuel – basic five fuels to keep the war machine protected against the vagaries of nature, well fed and mobile in case of any eventuality.

Indian Oil, the Maharatna behemoth is rightly viewed as the premier commercial enterprise of the country whose every detail is of colossal proportions…

Honour to accomplish this humongous AWS task flawlessly from planning to execution stage in Ladakh and Srinagar valley has been hitherto consistently bestowed upon the flagship national oil company i.e. Indian Oil – the Energy of India. It includes ensuring POL at Siachen also at a brain-numbing height of 21,000 feet. The highest battle ground is also the second longest glacier in the non-Polar regions of the world with a length of 70 km and means ‘The Place Of Wild Roses’ in Balti language.

Indian Oil, the Maharatna behemoth is rightly viewed as the premier commercial enterprise of the country whose every detail is of colossal proportions. Its vertigo triggering achievements which have been attained through corporate foresight and perseverance, give Indian Oil an enviable and lofty place in the prestigious Fortune 500 ranking backed with more than fifty years worth of determined and dedicated effort. The entire AWS activity is coordinated at various levels to ensure successful completion. For both Indian Oil and the Army, perfection not being a mere act but a habit, such multilevel monitoring is essential for timely completion of AWS within a limited time window.

Quantities and supply locations once decided, AWS becomes the buzzword for next three months for about 100 Indian Oil officers and workmen spread over various supply locations in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Ambala. They are assisted by 2,600 strong tank-truck crew of around 1300 TTs who are an important link of the robust supply chain model Indian Oil has put in place so assiduously over the years. At the crest of AWS exercise, eventually 1,200-odd tankers, looking almost like an ant trail from a distance, are expected to be always on the road on a stretch of around 1,100 km. Hypothetically it means sighting a tanker at less than every kilometre.

Quantities and supply locations once decided, AWS becomes the buzzword for next three months for about 100 Indian Oil officers and workmen spread over various supply locations…

Leh, the capital of Ladakh can be accessed both via Zoji la at 10,600 feet and picturesque Rohtang axis at 13,050 feet. But it is the former, falling on Srinagar – Leh route that has also been the theatre of Operation Duck in 1948 when tanks were moved from Akhnoor to Zoji la to rout the tribals sponsored by our hostile neighbour.

During Operation Vijay in 1999, features such as Tololing and Tiger Hill were captured not alone with computers calculating the trajectory or satellites and lasers guiding the bombs, but also after a hand-to-hand combat fought savagely with bayonets, bare hands and bravado fuelled by raw courage which forced the enemy to waul away with tail limping between its tottering legs. It is here that the heroic tales of valour of martyrs are permanently etched in their sweat and blood. They laid down their lives, while in the prime of their youth, in the service of nation while hoisting the Indian tricolor atop reclaimed features while a grateful but grieving nation wondered why peace has to necessarily flow out the barrel of a gun only. These immortalised soldiers have attained cult status with tales of their bravery becoming a part of the local folklore and being narrated to the younger generations.

While all this planning is underway, BRO personnel are busy tunneling their way through granite hard ice with snow cutters. This Godzilla weighing over 10,000 kg worth of sheer solid metal with 24 operating speeds, capable of both – crawling at 110 metres per hour and cruising at 86 km per hour – effectively unclogs the mountainous arteries of the obstinately accumulated snow. Out of 18 projects across the country, four are catering to the needs of Jammu and Kashmir alone.

The AWS supply chain moves like a conveyer belt…

The AWS supply chain moves like a conveyer belt. Occasional hiccups like landslides or vehicular breakdowns are efficiently surmounted. Knowing that in a terrain with no human settlement for miles at a stretch, the only helping hand available is at the end of one’s own arm, the resilient tank-truck crew carry enough spares and expertise to fix most of the breakdowns.

By September-end, chilly air starts skewering the ribs after the sun has sunk in the arms of mountains in this Himalayan desert. Bar headed geese and Himalayan griffons prepare for migration to warmer climes and marmots dig their burrows deep for hibernation. The Northern Hemisphere is now sliding towards the Autumnal equinox and clouds are readying themselves to get pregnant with snow. With the last of the remaining quantities of POL squirreled away, the final battery of the way worn and fatigued crew who refused to drown in their own sweat during this exercise, are cheerfully steering their empty tank trucks towards the plains. Their homes beckon them invitingly so as to embrace the snug comfort of the families they had left behind. The reflection of their vehicles seems to be dissolving in the cadent flow of Indus and Zanskar waters.

The wind gently nudges the clouds, as if trying to form abstract images of corporate values of ‘Care, Innovation, Passion, Trust’ of Indian Oil and catch phrases of ‘Sewa Asmakam Dharma’ (Service Is Our Creed) of Army Service Corps and ‘Creates, Connects, Cares’ of Border Roads Organisation and they seem to be merging together while floating away in the ethereal and infinite blue expanse.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Arun Khanna

is presently posted as Ch. Manager (Consumer Sales), Punjab State Office, IndianOil Corporation Ltd. (MD), Chandigarh and travelled by road from Srinagar To Leh and also from Leh to Manali. An avid travel writer and an awarded amateur photographer, a gallery of his photographs has also been commissioned in Lucknow.

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