Breaking yet another glass ceiling, India will post women officers as defence attaches in its overseas missions. After a decision taken by the government early this year, the three Services have been asked to identify women officers who could fill the posts.
The first missions have been identified largely in Europe and America.
Piloted by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the move acknowledges the fact that while India has had many distinguished women ambassadors, diplomats, even foreign secretaries, the defence attache's post has always been male-dominated.
Sources said the first women officers could go out as soon as on the next "rotation". The defence attache's job has acquired greater importance in recent years, as India's defence and security engagement has increased. Defence diplomacy is now a regular part of India's diplomatic engagement, certainly with key countries.
Official sources said while defence diplomacy used to be a preserve largely of the Navy, this has become more broad-based in the Modi government. The changing strategic environment in India's extended neighbourhood involves much greater communication and the ability to open up new markets for India's future defence exports.
Earlier this month, the defence ministry announced women could get permanent commission in 10 branches of the Indian Army - Signals, Engineers, Army Aviation, Army Air Defence, Electronics and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Army Ordinance Corps and Intelligence. All the branches of the IAF, including fighter pilots, are now open for women to serve. The Navy has opened non-sea going specialisations for women. A statement by the defence ministry earlier this month said new "training ships" will be used to train women sailors for a future in seafaring roles.
Women officers in a defence diplomacy role could be more effective - India's defence and security interests are deep, but it needs to be seen to be less overbearing. There is greater importance to more transparent communication. There is a worry that the male-centric defence ministry might relegate women officers to marginal roles in countries where India's defence interests are not big enough.