Sources said Army chief General Bikram Singh is keen that at least 2,000-2,500 metric tonnes of ammunition that is "expensive and operationally important'' should be stored in such underground shelters in the operational areas of the Northern and Eastern Army Commands, a report in the Indian media said.
With Beijing being considered the "real long-term threat'' despite the current tensions with Islamabad along the Line of Control, two pilot projects have been taken up for construction of "underground and tunnelled'' storage of ammunition in Leh and Sikkim along the "northern borders'' with China.
Initially, Army, DRDO and other experts had selected five sites in the north-east and two in J&K for the underground shelters. The choice was narrowed down to a site each in Leh and Sikkim with the help of "geo-technical reports'', which looked at 40-50 parameters, for the pilot projects.
"Once the first two projects take off, similar ones will be undertaken along the western border with Pakistan. The underground shelters will make it difficult for the enemy to detect and destroy our ammunition dumps. Both China and the US store most of their ammunition in tunnels, caves and other underground shelters,'' said a source.
At present, only around 4.5 lakh of the 8 lakh tonnes of ammunition authorized for the Army has proper storage facilities in the shape of modern and fire-resistant ammunition storage sheds or storehouses.
The rest is stored mostly in the open, exposed to the weather. This often leads to explosions, fires and "mishandling of ammunition incidents'' causing regular deaths as well as destruction of ammunition. A devastating blaze at the Khundru ammunition depot in J&K in August 2007 had killed over 20 people and destroyed several thousand tonnes of ammunition.
India also plans to construct as many as 18 tunnels in J&K, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, along the borders with Pakistan and China, for faster troop mobility. These tunnels will also be able to store crucial war-fighting assets like missiles as well as provide NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) protection without the threat of detection by enemy satellites and spy drones.