In a historic first aimed at ensuring gender parity, the Indian Navy has selected two women officers as helicopter crew for deployment on frontline warships on short and long-duration missions, officials said on Monday.
Sub Lieutenant Kumudini Tyagi and Sub Lieutenant Riti Singh have graduated as 'Observers' (airborne tacticians) in the helicopter stream and would be deployed on warships as part of the crew, they said.
The Indian Navy is yet to deploy women officers on board warships unlike navies from countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and France.
'In yet another first in the history of Indian naval aviation, two women officers have been selected to join as 'observers' in the helicopter stream.
'They would in effect be the first set of women airborne combatants who would be operating from warships,' the Indian Navy said in a statement.
As observers, the two officers will be part of the teams managing various combat and tactical aspects of the operations of naval helicopters from frontline warships when the choppers are deployed on a range of missions.
Sub Lt Tyagi and Sub Lt Singh were part of a group of 17 officers including three officers of the Indian Coast Guard who were awarded 'Wings' on graduating as 'Observers' at a ceremony held at INS Garuda in Kochi on Monday, the Navy said.
Several senior Navy officials, on the condition of anonymity, called the selection of the two officers for the new role as very significant, saying it is a precursor to having women commanding officers for frontline warships.
The Navy deploys women staffers in logistics and medical wings on-board fleet tankers, but it will be for the first time they will be onboard destroyers and frigates.
Last year, the Navy had appointed two women as pilots for its Dornier aircraft fleet.
The crew of P-8I maritime patrol aircraft of the Navy too has women officers. Both Dornier and P8I aircraft operate from shore-based facilities.
Sources said Sub Lieutenant Tyagi and Sub Lieutenant Singh would be part of the technical crew for the MH-60 Romeo Seahawk maritime helicopters of the Navy.
India is buying 24 MH-60 Romeo helicopters from US aerospace major Lockheed Martin for the Indian Navy under a $2.6-billion deal.
Designed for hunting submarines as well as knocking out ships and conducting search-and-rescue operations at sea, the Lockheed Martin-built helicopters would replace India's aging fleet of British-made Sea King helicopters
Officials said the Navy is going to allow women officers in a variety of roles onboard its warships and suitable facilities are being made available in the newly-constructed ships for them.
The ceremony in Kochi was presided by Rear Admiral Antony George, Chief Staff Officer (Training) who presented the awards and coveted wings to the graduating officers.
The chief guest also awarded the Instructor Badge to six other officers (five from the Indian Navy including a woman and another from Indian Coast Guard), who had successfully graduated as Qualified Navigation Instructors (QNI).
Rear Admiral Antony highlighted the fact that it was a landmark occasion wherein for the first time women are going to be trained in helicopter operations which would ultimately pave the way for the deployment of women in frontline warships of the Indian Navy.
The officers of the 91st Regular course and 22nd SSC Observer course were trained in air navigation, flying procedures, tactics employed in air warfare and anti-submarine warfare.
These officers would serve on-board Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft of the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard, the statement said.