By Pradip R Sagar
Published: 02nd Nov 2014 06:06:55 AM The New Indian Express – The Sunday Standard
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit this Diwali to the world’s highest battlefield, Siachen, to applaud the Indian army troops deployed there again brought into national focus the difficulty of operating under such adverse climatic conditions.
A study by Defence Research and Development Organisation, India’s premier defence research institute, to find solutions and shorten the acclimatization period has been junked by the Army.
Keeping unforeseen events in mind, the Army wanted to reduce the pre-acclimatisation training period to faster deploy its troops to high-altitude locations in cases of emergency. And for this, the DRDO was mandated to carry out a study on how to reduce the pre-acclimatisation training period in May 2009 with budget of over `3 crore. Delhi-based Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), a wing of DRDO, carried out the study for which they selected 210 soldiers. In order to study the soldiers’ physiology changes, they were asked to stay in a make-shift chamber filled with nitrogen for intermittent periods. But the Army has rubbished the study report and criticised the methods adopted by the DIPAS scientists.
In a strongly worded four-page letter to DIPAS on 10 September, the office of the Director General Armed Forces Medical Services (DGAFMS) has raised serious objections and sought explanation on various key points related to the study including selection of troops for the study, use of multiple investigators to collect data, use of master step test as an indicator of exercise performance for high altitude and disparity in heart rate date from the same cohort at different points of the report.
DIPAS had used intermittent hypoxia study at sea level before dispatching soldiers to high-altitude locations. Explaining the terminology, a DRDO scientist said that Intermittent Hypoxic Training (IHT) is a test protocol usually given to the individual with reduced oxygen concentration as prevailed in high altitude for pre-acclimatising them at sea level in a normobaric hypoxic chamber, before they are deployed for high mountain warfare.
On the basis the outcome of the study, two costly normobaric hypoxic chambers were planned to be set up in Chandigarh to cater northern command and Sukhna for eastern command troops with a cost of over `10 lakh.
Reacting strongly to the samples of troops taken, that had men who had already served in high-altitude postings, the DGAFMS raised concerns on the validity of conclusions drawn from the data presented. While seeking justification for the selection of re-inductees as study subjects, the Army has said, “Current knowledge on the phenomenon of de-acclimatisation is limited. It is accepted by many experts in the field that certain physiological changes induces on exposure on high altitude may persist beyond one month of return to sea level.”
“Hence the choice of re-inductees as study subjects raises questions about the validity of date being presented, especially since the aim of the project is to extrapolate the findings to healthy soldiers being rapidly inducted to high altitude, in all probability, for the first time,” DGAFMC said in his detailed response to DIPAS study.
When contacted, DRDO spokesperson Ravi Gupta refused to comment as it is a classified matter.