Three women training at an Indian Air Force facility near Hyderabad are set to become the country’s first female fighter pilots as they prepare to head for the last leg of their combat training in June, a watershed in the IAF’s 83-year history.
As first reported by HT on December 17, the three women cadets had volunteered for the fighter stream and were selected for stage-II training on Kiran Mk-II planes at Hakimpet for six months, beginning early January. They had passed out of the Air Force Academy at Dundigal on December 19.
Stage-II training in the fighter stream at Hakimpet is critical as the performance of the cadets will decide whether they are fit for the final stage of preparation.
Bhawana Kanth, Mohana Singh and Avani Chaturvedi are the three women who stand at the threshold of a dazzling career as fighter pilots. None of them would have dreamed of flying combat planes when they joined the academy in January 2015 as doors to the fighter stream were thrown open to women only in October 2015.
“It has taken a lot of hard work to get here. There is still some way to go, but we are confident that we will fulfil our duties as fighter pilots,” Mohana Singh told reporters in Hakimpet.
“We had entered the IAF thinking we will be transport pilots. But when the door to the fighter stream was opened to us, we did not think twice. My advice to women is: if you set your sights on something, do everything in your power to get there.”
The three women will now go to Bidar in Karnataka in June 2016 for stage-III training for a year on British Hawk advanced jet trainers, before they can fly supersonic warplanes. However, wastage (rejection) can take place at the last stage too.
Speaking at a function on International Women’s Day on Tuesday, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said, “As of now, three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream. They are undergoing the second phase of their training. Once they complete their training and are at par with their male colleagues, the passing out parade will be held on June 18.”
As first reported by HT on November 22, six female cadets were taking a shot at becoming fighter pilots after the government approved an IAF plan in October making them eligible to fly warplanes from June 2017, ending a rigid combat exclusion policy. However, only the three female trainees were selected for the fighter stream after a high-powered board of officers carried out detailed assessment of the flying capabilities of the 125 cadets training at the Dundigal-based premier academy.
The trifurcation into fighter, transport and helicopter streams takes place after the performance of cadets during stage-I training on Swiss Pilatus PC-7 aircraft is measured against clearly laid down parameters.
The decision to allow women to fly warplanes has been taken on an “experimental basis” and the government will review it after five years.
The headcount of women in the armed forces is upwards of 3,300, including 1,300 in the air force, but combat roles were off-limits to them until the IAF took the lead in crushing internal resistance to grant them equal opportunities.
Indicating an imminent radical overhaul in the Indian military, President Pranab Mukherjee, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, said on February 23 that the government would allow women to serve in all fighter streams.
India is taking steps to crush all gender barriers in the armed forces to allow women to serve on-board submarines, in ground combat positions and tank units. Even the US army does not have women in infantry and armoured units.