The Border Road Organisation (BRO) has a daunting task of building roads on what are probably the most challenging terrain in the world. It includes the deserts in Rajasthan, the treacherous Southern face of the young himalayan ranges, the arid high altitude beyond merging into the Tibetan Plateau and the riverine NE region which can test both patience and ingenuity to its limits. They are tasked because no one else can take this on under such extreme conditions. They contribute to security of our national borders in two distinct ways.
First is initiating development in the region; providing first connectivity to enable faster growth in both infrastructure and commerce in the area. Second is by providing better logistics to the forces deployed along the border. Both complement security in the region. Let’s understand how these two facets contribute to security and what the BRO has done towards this.
Enabling Development in Border States
The BRO has initiated and helped sustain growth in the border States by developing the first roads and maintaining them in difficult times, enabling further development in these regions. The impact of development in border areas on security is big. Economic development means better living conditions, better education, and a more stable society. It helps reduce unwanted external influences. It also promotes better integration with the rest of the country, economically, culturally, and socially. This makes the region more secure. Efficiency of the forces along the borders is also enhanced by local support- motivated people, a thriving industry, and improved local resources. Ask anyone in the forces who has fought a war along the Western Borders, and he will tell you how much, local support can be a force-multiplier. No one appreciates the BRO effort better than the locals.
Improved Logistics for the Forces
The focus today with an active Northern Border is rightly on military logistics so critical to sustaining troops ahead and enhancing their capability. It is a lesson highlighted once again in the Ukraine war. This is today, getting a real boost through BRO, and their achievements find mention in the media ever so often, as they build roads, bridges and tunnels which were long awaited. How these serve as a force-multiplier may not be fully comprehended by some.
- By 2022, BRO had constructed over 55,000 kilometres (34,000 mi) of roads, over 450 permanent bridges with a total length of over 44,000 metres (27 mi) length and 19 airfields in strategic locations
- BRO is also tasked with maintaining this infrastructure including operations such as snow clearance
- One of the biggest infrastructural achievements of the organisation is the construction of the longest highway tunnel constructed in Himachal Pradesh, named The Atal Tunnel, in memory of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Its length is 8.8-kilometres and will be the world’s longest tunnel above 3,000 meters. It will decrease the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 kilometres and saves transport costs
- Another milestone is constructing the highest motorable road in the world at the height of 19,300 feet at Umlingla Pass in eastern Ladakh
- In addition to this, the BRO has also constructed a 52-km long black-topped road through Umlingla Pass, bettering the previous record of a road in Bolivia connecting to its volcano Uturuncu at 18,953 ft
Better connectivity reduces travel time and increases loads that can be carried on any road or axis as the army would like to call some of these roads. It means faster build up at a lesser cost. When larger trucks are used on better roads, the transportation costs drop exponentially. A recent study shows transportation cost can almost be halved if four axel trucks are used as against twin axle trucks, which has been the mainstay for military logistics for long because of bottlenecks in connectivity and weak bridges. This is fast changing.
Along with quicker build-up is the ability to take larger equipment further ahead. If it is a heavier gun, the fire-power reach is enhanced. If it is better monitoring equipment like radars and sensors, the surveillance cover is enhanced. Repair facilities also move up, reducing downtime of machines. With better roads, barrack-accommodation can be closer to the front line, enhancing the efficiency of troops and their morale.
With better roads, reduced turn-around for supplies to logistics areas is also a great advantage. The stocking levels can then be pruned, confident of a reliable line of replenishment. Food remains fresher, stores are more readily available. Add this to better accommodation and ancillaries and you have the man behind the machine more efficient and operating a better maintained machine.
At the operational level, it gives the commanders more flexibility in planning, deployment, and redeployment. And with each new road, bridge or tunnel made by the BRO, the capability is enhanced. Larger communication arteries sustain larger forces. Forward Airfields are again a strategic asset that allows aircrafts to operate over the Tibetan Plateau with more fuel and ammunition than aircrafts positioned on the plateau, as the altitude limits all-up-weight at take-off for them. All weather connectivity through tunnels like Atal tunnel (Rohtang Pass) are again game changers with strategic implications. Combined with a second tunnel at Zojila across the Greater Himalayas, it will change the face of the Ladakh region and make forces less vulnerable.
BRO in the Recent Past
Further the capability for carrying out any operation across the border can be sustained only with reliable logistics. It puts so much more pressure on the other side, just as we have felt in the past, seeing infrastructure grow across our Northern border. Better roads to support the forces ahead are truly a force-multiplier. It makes the man and the machine capable of more. It gives commanders more flexibility in planning and execution. Together it is a battle winning factor.
In enabling better logistics, the task of the BRO gets more challenging as they get closer to the borders. The degree of difficulty increases with altitude, more extreme temperatures, and more challenging terrain. The BRO’s achievements in the recent past are even more commendable considering this. The list is long.
The growing tally as of now is nearly 60500 km of roads, 893 bridges, 19 Airfields and 18 Km of tunnels. The numbers have grown rapidly in the recent past. In the last one year the Raksha Mantri has inaugurated a total of 103 BRO projects, 28 (costing 724 Cr), were inaugurated in Jan 2023. This spans across all the Border States.
The growing tally as of now is nearly 60500 Km of roads, 893 bridges, 19 Airfields and 18 Km of tunnels. The numbers have grown rapidly in the recent past. In the last one year the Raksha Mantri has inaugurated a total of 103 BRO projects, 28 (costing 724 Cr), were inaugurated in Jan 2023
Tunnels have been greatly speeded up of late. Close on the heels of the completion of 9.2 Km Atal Tunnel (Rohtang), in Oct 2020, the tunnels in the NE are also reaching completion. On the 317 Km Balipara-Chardwar-Tawang Road, the 5 Km Sela Tunnel is likely to be completed later this year. A 500m Nechipu tunnel under the Eagles Nest Wildlife Reserve is likely to be completed in March, both together bringing Tawang closer to the State capital Itanagar and speeding up logistics to the Tawang Region.
In J&K work on the Z Morh Tunnel to reach Sonamarg and then the Zojila Tunnel through the Greater Himalayan Range are in progress. The feasibility studies had earlier been carried out by the BRO and the construction handed over to the NHIDCL. But BRO continues to work closely with them to keep the approaches open as NH 1 from Leh to Srinagar is on their charge. The Zojila Pass is still in use and would normally close from November to June each year due to snow in winter. With the LAC active, it was decided to reduce the period of closure. Both in 2022 and in 2023, the Pass has been kept open till the first week of January, despite the temperatures being minus (-) 25° C at an altitude of nearly 11500 ft (3450m). Over 13500 additional vehicles have been able to ply this year, due to this, which has helped troops beyond Leh be better stocked for winter.
The BROs response to a crisis has always been remarkable. Their performance under extreme challenges has been proven repeatedly, showing them once again as the ‘Best under Extremes’. Their contribution towards enhancing security along the borders is truly invaluable.