(This was originally posted in Hindustan Times by Rahul Singh)
Two women army officers have for the first time been selected to train as helicopter pilots at the force’s premier Combat Army Aviation Training School at Nashik in Maharashtra, officials familiar with the development said on Tuesday.
The development comes months after army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane cleared a proposal for allowing women officers to opt for the army’s aviation wing. While women officers in the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy fly helicopters, the Army Aviation Corps only inducted male officers until now. Pilots have to go through a stringent selection process.
“Fifteen women officers volunteered to join army aviation. But only two were selected after the Pilot Aptitude Battery Test (PABT) and medicals,” said one of the officials cited above, asking not to be named. The two women are among the 47 army officers who began their training at the Nashik training school on Monday, said a second officer. They will join front-line flying duties on completion of their training in July 2022. Until now, women officers were assigned only ground duties in the Army Aviation Corps.
Raised in November 1986, the Army Aviation Corps operates the Dhruv advanced light helicopter, Chetaks, Cheetahs and Cheetal helicopters. It carries out an important role in supporting the army’s deployment in high-altitude areas, including the Siachen Glacier. The headcount of women in the military has increased almost three-fold over the last six years, with more avenues being opened to them at a steady pace, government figures show.
There are 9,118 women currently serving the army, navy and air force, with the services giving them more opportunities for career progression, the government told Parliament in February 2021. “It’s wonderful to see the armed forces open new avenues for women. It will encourage more women to join the military,” said Rajeshwari Kori, deputy controller of Civil Defence (Maharashtra) and a former lieutenant commander who was part of a short-lived Indian Navy experiment to deploy women on warships in 1997.
One of the turning points for women in the military came in 2015 when IAF decided to induct them into the fighter stream. Earlier this year, the Indian Navy deployed four women officers on warships after a hiatus of almost 25 years. India’s only aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and fleet tanker INS Shakti are the warships that have been assigned their first women crews since the late 1990s. In May 2021, the army inducted the first batch of women into the Corps of Military Police, the first time that women joined the military in the non-officer cadre. Women have been serving as officers in select branches of the three services since the early 1990s.
Tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women, who were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992 Excluding the medical wing in which women have been serving for decades, the army as of February 2021 accounted for 6,807 women officers, the IAF (1,607) and the navy, 704. In percentage terms, women still form a small part of the military — 0.56% of the army, 1.08% of the air force and 6.5% of the navy.