Another glass ceiling was broken Friday as two women were commissioned into the Indian Navy as navigators in the flying branch, in a way also becoming the first women combatants in the armed forces.
Sub Lieutenants Ambica Hooda of Haryana and Seema Rani Sharma of Uttar Pradesh were awarded their "Wing” at the passing out parade here.
"Hooda was adjudged the best trainee in flying of the first Short Service Commission Observer Course. All the graduated officers would now join different squadrons of the navy, where, they would fly Maritime Patrol Aircraft and helicopter”, Indian Navy spokesperson Commander Roy Francis told IANS.
In the navy, the job of a navigator is also that of a combatant as, unlike in the air force, all its fixed wing aircraft can be used for combat purposes. Its maritime patrol aircraft are also capable of firing.
"This is the first time women are being commissioned as navigators in the Indian Navy. It is a proud moment as both of them have completed their training with flying colours," the spokesperson added.
The navigator's job is challenging. Apart from keeping track of the aircraft's position at all times, the navigator's responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the pilot of the estimated timing to destinations while en route and ensuring that weather hazards are avoided.
Hooda and Sharma, both 22 years old, completed a 16-month course at the Naval Academy at Mandovi in Goa and other professional schools of the Indian Navy before landing up at the Observer School at INS Garuda here. The navy terms its navigators as observers.
Earlier this year, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had commissioned Flying Officer Kavita Barala as its first woman navigator. However, she will be flying on non-combatant transport aircraft.
The issue of inducting women into the combatant arms of the military has been generating considerable heat of late. The IAF vice chief, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, had created a storm earlier this week when he said, perhaps in jest, that the force could in the foreseeable future take in women as fighter pilots if they committed not to have children.
Two years ago, Defence Minister A.K. Antony had asked the three service chiefs to examine the question of inducting women in combat arms. They said it was not feasible at the moment for a variety of reasons.
Women currently can hold permanent commissions only in the Armed Forces Medical Services, where they can serve up to a maximum age of 58 years if they rise to three-star rank. Otherwise, women can only hold short service commissions that enable them to serve a maximum of 14 years in the support arms of the three services.