The decision to allow women to fly warplanes has been taken on an “experimental basis”, the government clarified on Friday. Minister of state for defence Rao Inderjit Singh told Lok Sabha that entry of women into the Indian Air Force’s fighter stream was approved on an “experimental basis for a period of five years.”
The government had approved an IAF plan in October making women eligible to fly fighter planes from June 2017, ending a rigid combat exclusion policy and propelling them into the limelight.
Six women flight cadets training at the Air Force Academy (AFA) near Hyderabad stand a chance of becoming the country’s first female combat pilots, as first reported by HT.
The women undergoing stage-I training at the AFA will be assessed for their “suitability” to fly fighter planes. Responding to a question in the House, Singh said, “Based on the suitability and willingness, these trainees would be selected for stage-II training in the fighter stream. Upon successful completion of stage-II training, the trainees are likely to be commissioned into the fighter stream in June 2016.”
The minister said “all women pilots in the IAF are cleared for operational roles including low-level tactical flying, special heli-borne operations and air maintenance in northern and eastern sectors.”
Flight cadets at the AFA train on the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 trainer aircraft for six months.
The cadets selected for the fighter stream are then dispatched to Hakimpet near Hyderabad to train on Kiran Mk-II planes for six months. Those who make the cut here then go to Bidar in Karnataka for the final stage of training for a year on British Hawk advanced jet trainers, before they can fly supersonic planes.
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.
Warships, tanks and combat positions in infantry are still no-go zones for women, who were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.