“After permanent commission (PC) for women officers, the plan to induct women in artillery regiments is part of the overall process towards making the Army as gender-neutral as possible,” a senior officer told TOI. There is, however, no move to induct women officers in the main ‘combat arms’ of infantry, armoured corps (tanks) and mechanised infantry (infantry combat vehicles). Similarly, submarines in the Navy remain a ‘no-go’ area for them as of now.
While artillery is designated as a ‘combat-support arm’ in the 12-lakh strong Army, it is on the frontlines of war-fighting with units deployed along the unresolved volatile borders with both China and Pakistan.
There are over 280 artillery regiments in the Army, which handle 105mm field guns, Bofors howitzers and the ‘upgunned’ Dhanush and Sharang guns to the new M-777 ultra-light howitzers and K-9 Vajra self-propelled tracked guns. The indigenous Pinaka multi-launch rocket systems as well as similar Russian-origin Smerch and Grad units are also part of the artillery.
While women officers have been inducted into the over 14-lakh strong armed forces since the early 1990s, they number just over 3,900 (around 1,710 in Army, 1,650 in IAF and 600 in Navy) in their 65,000-strong officer cadre. There are separately around 1,670 women doctors, 190 dentists and 4,750 nurses in the military medical stream.
The military brass for long had opposed inducting women in larger numbers, assigning them combat roles or granting them PC on the grounds of “operational, practical and cultural problems”. But women, often with the Supreme Court’s help, are breaking more and more military barriers. The first batch of 19 women cadets (Army 10, IAF 6 and Navy 3), for instance, has been undergoing the three-year course at the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla since August last year.
Women Army officers can now also get permanent commission in eight new branches apart from legal and education wings. They are Army Air Defence, Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, EME, Army Service Corps (ASC), Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence Corps. There is currently a special board under way for 108 women officers to be promoted to the rank of Colonel (selection grade) out of the 244 being considered for the first time, as was reported by TOI last week.
Hyderabad: First batch of Agniveers start training, dream of joining the army comes true
There are now also 100 women jawans in the Corps of Military Police after the Army for the first time began recruiting women in “other ranks” in 2019-2020. Under the new Agnipath scheme, all the three services will induct some women ‘Agniveers’ into their ranks.
The combat exclusion policy for women was shattered when the IAF inducted three of them as fighter pilots in 2016. Now, there are 17 women pilots flying supersonic jets like MiG-21s, Sukhoi-30MKIs and even the spanking new Rafales. There are also over 145 women helicopter and transport aircraft pilots in the IAF, Army and Navy now, while around 30 women officers have also been deployed on frontline warships.
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