- The two will be the first women officers to be deployed on Navy warships
- They are training to operate a host of sensors on Navy's helicopters
- IAF has also shortlisted a woman pilot to operate its fleet of Rafales
In a move that will redefine gender equality in the Indian Navy, Sub Lieutenant Kumudini Tyagi and Sub Lieutenant Riti Singh will be the first women combatants who will operate as specialists on board Navy helicopters which operate from the deck of warships.
Though women have been deployed as logistics and medical officers onboard Navy fleet tankers, they have not been a part of the crew onboard destroyers or frigates for lengthy durations due to a host of reasons - including the lack of privacy in crew quarters and the availability of gender-specific bathroom facilities.
That is set to now change with the two young officers who are training to operate a host of sensors onboard navy multi-role helicopters, including sonar consoles and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) payloads. In the event of combat, these women officers would detect enemy submarines and warships using the onboard sensors they operate and provide targeting solutions to the pilots of the choppers who would fire the actual weapons, torpedoes or anti-ship missiles.
It is expected that the two officers will eventually fly on the navy's new MH-60 R helicopters, 24 of which are on order. Widely considered the most advanced multi-role helicopters of their class in the world, the MH-60R is designed to detect enemy ships and submarines which can be engaged using missiles and torpedoes. In 2018, then Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had cleared the acquisition of the Lockheed-Martin built choppers in a deal estimated at $2.6 billion.
"Things are changing in the Indian Navy every day. The navy is giving everybody an opportunity every day. Yes, we're breaking barriers every day but there are a lot of opportunities coming up every day. Whatever role the Indian Navy gives us, we will gladly take them," Sub Lieutenant Singh, a fourth generation armed forces officer, told NDTV. Her father had retired from the navy several years ago.
"Our training has been really rigorous. We've both completed over 60 hours of training.... We take pressure and tension bang on. We don't get worked up," she said.
News of the deployment of women officers onboard ships comes on a day when it has emerged that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has shortlisted a woman fighter pilot to operate in its fleet of Rafale fighter jets. Operational conversion of this officer has begun though its unclear when she would be declared 'operational' with the IAF's Golden Arrows squadron in Ambala which is the first IAF squadron to operate the French built fighter, the most advanced in the inventory of the IAF.
"We've been treated equally... Whatever training our male counterparts received, we went through the same training... It is a huge responsibility, the task is challenge. We are looking forward to it," Sub Lieutenant Tyagi, who is from Ghaziabad near Delhi, told NDTV.
The two officers are part of a group of 17 officers of the Indian Navy, including four women officers, and three officers of the Indian Coast Guard, who were awarded "Wings" on graduating as "Observers" at a ceremony held on Monday at INS Garuda in Kochi, the navy said in a statement.
In 2016, Flight Lieutenant Bhawanna Kanth, Flight Lieutenant Avani Chaturvedi, and Flight Lieutenant Mohana Singh became India's first women fighter pilots. At the moment, the IAF has 1,875 women in service including 10 fighter pilots. Eighteen women officers are navigators who are thought to be deployed in the fighter-fleet as well, operating as Weapons Systems Operators on fighters including the Sukhoi-30MKI.