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Women in command, minus combat

New Delhi, July 28: Women joining the army from next year would be groomed to command battalions that are not involved in close combat.

This would make such women eligible for a permanent commission, a senior army commander said.

Women currently join the army only as short service commission officers, meaning they can serve for up to 14 years. They are granted permanent commission only in the Armed Forces Medical Corps.

The non-combat or combat-support units in which women can make it to the rank of commanding officers (colonel) of battalions are likely to be in the aviation corps, education corps, signals and engineers.

Some of the units in these branches are actively engaged in combat — like the engineers (who lay minefields) and the aviation corps. Women pilot helicopters now but are not sent into combat and are mainly tasked with casualty evacuation. But even such evacuations in hostile situations are out of bounds for women.

The army commander said the Centre was likely to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying women officers joining the force from 2015-16 would be trained for command. This is in response to a demand for permanent commission to women officers.

The commander said in some branches, women would compete with men to command battalions. Women will not be allowed in the infantry and armoured corps or in the special forces.

The decision to groom women for command would involve tailoring the syllabi in military academies for them. The government is yet to decide if the primary academy for cadet officers — the National Defence Academy in Khadakvasla near Pune — would be thrown open to girls.

Women cadets now pass out of the Officers’ Training Academies in Chennai and Gaya.

Women were first inducted into the armed forces in 1991. They are still not considered eligible for posts below officer rank in any of the three services.

The question of allowing women in combat situations hinges on physical ability (to bodily evacuate casualties under fire, for example) and a reluctance to take a call on dealing with a situation in which a woman soldier may be taken hostage.

“Like men officers, they will be be empowered through routine courses like staff college, junior and higher command courses,” the commander said. This would bring them in the zone for command depending on fitness. “But we cannot have women commanders at the cost of men officers,” he added.