In a major breakthrough, the Ministry of Defence has decided to induct women as sailors in the Indian Navy. Women will soon be enrolled as non-officer cadre. According to sources, the move was by suggested by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at a naval conference. Navy chief Sunil Lanba is learnt to have accepted the proposal.

Recently, a six-women crew of the INSV Tarini became the first Indian all-woman crew to successfully circumnavigate the globe. The expedition was sailed in six legs, with stopovers at the Fremantle (Australia), Lyttleton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falkland Islands), Cape Town (South Africa) and Mauritius over a period of 254 days.

Signalling that women could be inducted as sailors, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba has said that inclusion of women in warships was also being considered in the near future, sources said here on Friday. The sources said Lanba stated that enrolment of women in the sailor’s rank (equal to jawan in the Indian Army) was on the agenda of the three-day conference. They also said that Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to Chairman, COSC (Chiefs of Staff Committee) would be part of the tri-services commanders’ conference. Lanba said the inclusion of women in sea-going cadre “is also being looked in near future but not immediately.” The sources said that the new warships are being designed in a way that they could accommodate women officers. Sea-going cadres are deployed on warships, submarines and other vessels. At present, all non-sea going cadre are open to women and there are 639 officers, including 150 medical officers. The sources said that women are at present being deployed as “observers” on patrol aircraft such as P-8Is and IL 38 aircraft.

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The Navy has so far deployed women officers in eight branches, including education, law and naval constructions, where women have been given permanent commission as non-sea going cadre. For the deployment of women in sea, future warships are being modified with ‘suitable facilities’ to accommodate women crew onboard. The Navy has also deployed 70 women officers as observers or tactical operators on the maritime patrol aircrafts Boeing P-8I and IL-38, which are armed, and it is considered as a combat role. In 2015, the government also approved induction of women as fighter pilots in Indian Air Force that made it first and the only armed force in India to put women in combat roles. Last year, Indian Air Force inducted three women as fighter pilots on an experimental basis.

While addressing top naval commanders, the defence minister reiterated the need for the nation to be strong at sea and the Navy was asked to be ready and vigilant to counter any challenge in the maritime domain. “The government appreciates the Navy’s efforts in the area of indigenisation, self-reliance, and support to the ‘Make in India’ initiative of the government,” she said, while expressing her satisfaction at the Navy’s initiatives to achieve ‘Digital Navy’ vision in line with the government’s initiative of ‘Digital India’ programme.

In the last six months, defence ministry has approved capital acquisitions contracts worth Rs 17,000 crore. In the last four years of the BJP-led NDA government, two-third of the Navy’s modernisation budget was spent on indigenous procurement. During the interaction, Sitharaman reviewed the combat readiness of the Navy, pace of modernisation and progress of various acquisition and infrastructure related cases as infrastructure projects worth more than Rs 2,300 crore were approved in this financial year so far. During the three days of brainstorming, top naval commanders undertook a review of the Navy’s modernisation plans, including induction of aircraft carriers, ships, nuclear powered submarines, conventional submarines, re-vitalisation of the aviation and sub-surface assets and induction of certain state-of-the-art weapons, sensors and equipment. “Further, development of technical and support infrastructure for maintenance of these assets were also discussed in consonance with the ‘Indian Naval Indigenisation Plan 2015-30’, which has formulated the requirements of the Indian Navy towards indigenous development of equipment and systems over the next 15 years,” the Navy said in its statement.

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Sitharaman also asked the Navy to have a focussed approach towards the strategically important Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), while assuring additional budget to the tri-service command.

Sources: indiatoday.com, devdiscourse.com, the week

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