Under the government’s new model for recruitment to armed forces, women are being inducted into the navy for the first time in the personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre. India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, the largest warship to be built in the country and set to be commissioned into the navy in a month

New Delhi: Some of the women sailors, who will be inducted into the navy as Agniveers early next year, are likely to be deployed on India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant, the largest warship to be built in the country and set to be commissioned into the navy in a month, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Women are being recruited into the navy for the first time in the personnel below officer rank (PBOR) cadre under the government’s new Agnipath model for short-term induction of soldiers in the three services, and they will be deployed on warships based on the vacancies and facilities on board, said one of the officials cited above, who asked not to be named.

The navy is set to commission Vikrant around Independence Day next month, and the carrier will significantly boost the country’s naval presence and its reach. The warship, with a displacement of 37,500 tonnes, will operate MiG-29K fighter jets, a new deck-based fighter the navy is planning to buy (it has already tested Boeing’s F/A-18E Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-M) Kamov-31 helicopters, MH-60R multi-role helicopters and the indigenous advanced light helicopters.

To be sure, women officers in the navy are currently serving on board several warships, including the country’s sole aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. “The navy’s Agniveers, including women, are likely to be deployed on several warships after they enter service next year, including the two aircraft carriers. The navy is a gender-inclusive organisation where men and women get the same opportunities,” said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

Up to 20% of the 3,000 candidates that the navy plans to recruit under the Agnipath scheme – a far-reaching and hotly debated recruitment reform – this year are expected to be women, the officials said. The women will undergo the same training as men, they said. The three services will recruit 46,000 Agniveers this year, with the army and air force accounting for 40,000 and 3,000 jobs, respectively.

“Women in combat is becoming the new normal now as the services have become more open-minded. We have come a long way during the last 25 years. Deploying women sailors on board warships will inspire more of them to join the navy,” said Lieutenant Commander Rajeshwari Kori (Retd), who was part of a short-lived navy experiment to deploy women on warships in 1997.

This comes at a time when the navy is giving women officers more opportunities to serve on board warships alongside their male counterparts, with several of them already assigned to front-line ships operating in the broad expanse of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), as previously reported.

India had on June 14 announced the new Agnipath scheme replacing the legacy system of recruitment to lower the age profile of the armed forces, ensure a fitter military and create a technically skilled war fighting force capable of meeting future challenges.

The Agnipath scheme seeks to recruit soldiers for only four years, with a provision to retain 25% of them in the regular cadre for 15 years after another round of screening. It sparked widespread protests and forced a concerted outreach by the government to scotch apprehensions about the scheme.

At least six opposition MPs had on July 11 flagged concerns over the Agnipath scheme, and demanded its withdrawal during a meeting of the parliamentary consultative committee on defence.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh and the three service chiefs on Monday briefed the panel on Agnipath, but some Opposition members – including those from the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – pointed out loopholes in the new recruitment scheme.

To be sure, the three services have already kicked off the recruitment process under the Agnipath scheme. It has drawn a good response from defence aspirants. The air force has received 749,899 applications, compared to 631,528 last year, which was the highest in any recruitment cycle.

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