New Delhi, September:

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 officers who will be deployed on Navy warships as part of the ship’s crew. Though the Indian Navy does employ several women officers in its ranks, women have, thus far, not been embarked on warships 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. 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.

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.

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.