Sub Lieutenant (SLt.) Kumudini Tyagi and SLt. Riti Singh will join as “Observers” in the helicopter stream. In an exclusive interview with Ayushee Chaudhary of SP’s Naval Forces, the two dynamic navy officers offered a first-hand experience of their personal as well as professional encounters and the development of their roles going further.
Marking a landmark moment in the history of the Indian naval aviation, two women officers have been selected to join as “Observers” in the helicopter stream. Sub Lieutenant (SLt.) Kumudini Tyagi and SLt. Riti Singh would in effect be the first set of women airborne combatants who would be operating from warships. Previously, entry of women was confined to the fixed wing aircraft that took off and landed ashore. Prior to this women have been employed in different ranks in Indian Navy but never before have they been posted on warships.
Tyagi and Singh were awarded “Wings” on graduating as “Observers” at a ceremony held on September 21, 2020 at INS Garuda, Kochi. Rear Admiral Antony George, Chief Staff Officer (Training) presided over the ceremony. Speaking on the occasion, Rear Admiral George complemented the graduating officers and highlighted the fact that it is a landmark occasion wherein for the firsttime women are going to be trained in helicopter operations which would ultimately pave way for the deployment of women in frontline warships of Indian Navy.
SLt. Tyagi feels short of words to describe how it felt to finally see this dream come true. “We have both worked hard in our training period to have these wings on our chest. Seeing everyone’s response has made us further realise the kind of responsibility that is coming with this batch,” said SLt. Singh.
Observers, also referred to as Airborne Tacticians, act as airborne coordinators of maritime warfare and operate various state-of-the-art equipment including sonics, radars, sonars and communication equipment.
Echo of a determined dream
The excitement is echoing through the families of both the officers even though they could only get together virtually. SLt. Tyagi, who hails from Ghaziabad, decided to join the Indian Navy in 2015 when Lt. Kiran Shekhawat martyred during a naval aircraft crash. “She was also on Observer. That incident actually inspired me to join the armed forces. After that I started preparing for SSB (Services Selection Board) and CDS (Combined Defence Services).”
For the first-time women are going to be trained in helicopter operations which would ultimately pave way for the deployment of women in frontline warships of Indian Navy.
SLt. Singh belonging to Hyderabad is the fourth generation from her family to serve in the armed forces. “I realised at a very young age that men in uniform are indeed very different and have a very different life. Seeing the people around me was in itself an everyday inspiration that I need to wear the white uniform someday.”
The two officers are part of a group of 17 officers of the Indian Navy that comprised four women officers and three officers of the Indian Coast Guard, 13 officers of regular batch and four woman officers of Short Service Commission (SSC) batch. Both of them passed out of Indian Navy’s Observer Course, at Southern Naval Command, Kochi and are engineering graduates in computer science who were commissioned into the Navy in 2018.
The toil of training
“We have only completed our basic training to be qualified as Observers in the Indian Navy. We have flown for 60 hours on the Dornier aircraft which is a fixed wing aircraft. Only after completing the course will we come to know which aircraft the Indian Navy will be giving us, so further we will be studying 8-9 months more to qualify for our helicopter,” added SLt. Singh.
Recollecting their first fixed-wing sortie experience, they share how it was all about realising that they need to buck up and pull up their socks in case they want to do well in aviation.
They were trained in air navigation, flying procedures, tactics employed in air warfare, anti-submarine warfare and exploitation of airborne avionic systems. “From engineer graduates we had to turn into professional aviators. The journey was challenging but anybody and everybody who has the determination to do it can get through it,” said SLt. Singh.
SLt. Tyagi further affirmed that challenges were there, “from the day we were there in the Indian Naval Academy. We used to prepare through Google Maps, Google Earth to know the area where we are going and to understand the basic terrain. For one sortie itself, it took 8-9 hours from ground preparations to revising procedures to practicing the procedures.”
The togetherness of armed forces
The training in the Indian Armed Forces is not easy but these young women are a reminder of hard work and belief, while they attribute a large part of it to the team spirit that is deeply rooted in the armed forces. “Fauj” is a platform where you learn brotherhood; sometimes you feel things are not going the way you want so course mates are the first to whom you approach, believes SLt. Tyagi.
“Our dream at the moment is that we don’t let loose now so that eventually when we become operational, we are successful in carrying out all our missions. As long as we are able to do that, our goals will be met,” said SLt. Singh.
SLt. Singh agrees that the biggest motivation are the people around because “we are all going through the same things. Good days and bad days would happen to all of us but we were there for each other and that is a big reason that we are sitting here today.”
They remark that armed forces make you understand that anyone’s mistake can impact the entire team so there is responsibility towards each other and everyone understands that each member is equally important.
The Way Forward
Both the officers would serve on-board Maritime Reconnaissance and Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft of the Indian Navy. “What we are going to do, no Indian Navy women officer has done before. Our dream at the moment is just that we don’t let loose now so that eventually when we become operational, we are successful in carrying out all our missions. As long as we are able to do that, our goals will be met,” said SLt. Singh.
The task, they know, is not yet over. “The helicopter stream is one of the toughest streams so we have to pull our socks. We are looking at being trained on the helicopters, learning anti-submarine war missions, the anti-ship missions and then be deployed on our mission,” added SLt. Tyagi.
Women in Armed Forces
It was in 1992 that the army, air force and navy began inducting women as SSC officers to join the armed forces outside the medical stream. To begin with, they could serve for five years. A policy revision done in 2006 extended the service term for a maximum of 14 years. In 2015 government approved Indian Air Force’s (IAF) plan to induct women into the fighter stream. Last year, permanent commission was granted by the government to women in all ten branches where they are inducted for SSC — Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordnance Corps and Intelligence.
“There are many opportunities that the armed forces are giving, especially in the Indian navy as it is a multi-dimensional force where you get to serve on board aircraft, land, and sea so here the horizon is broader,” SLt. Tyagi shares.
In 2019, IAF declared Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth as its first female fighter pilot flying combat sorties and Flight Lieutenant Mohana Singh became the first woman fighter pilot to become fully operational by day on a Hawk aircraft. In July this year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had issued a formal letter to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Indian Army. Recently Flight Lieutenant Shivangi Singh was announced to be the first woman fighter pilot to fly the Rafale.
And now we have SLt. Singh and SLt. Tyagi carrying the baton forward in the Navy. They are sure of the bright future of women in the armed forces and discard any assumptions of gender biases in the armed forces. Two other women officers, SLt. Afnan Sheikh and SLt. Kreeshma R. who also passed out on September 21, would operate the fixed wing aircraft of the Navy.
Indian Navy inducts women in ATC, Observer, Law, logistics, Education, Naval Architecture, Pilot (Maritime Reconnaissance Stream only) and Naval Armament Inspectorate. Permanent Commission is allowed in Education, Law and Naval Architecture branches on completion of SSC tenure depending on merit and vacancy. Effectively all branches of Indian Navy, except Submariners and Divers, are open.
“There are many opportunities that the armed forces are giving especially in the Indian Navy as it is a multi-dimensional force where you get to serve on board aircraft, land, and sea so here the horizon is broader,” SLt. Tyagi shares.
Women who want to join Indian armed forces should first remove all stigma, suggests SLt. Singh. “Anyone who is ready to join the Indian armed forces will witness how the armed forces define them as a person and look after them.”
“Sometimes you might not get selected but don’t give up. I myself got recommended in the third attempt. Introspect, think that you are closer to your aim and start working. If you have the determination and passion you will definitely be a part of the Indian armed forces,” added SLt. Tyagi.
The young women officers acknowledge that this will be the highlight of their lives, after all not everyone gets to make history and they are ready to keep putting in all the more hard work to follow their responsibilities in the most accomplishing manner.