Women may soon get to fly warplanes, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Arup Raha announcing on Thursday that the military is working on a plan to induct them as fighter pilots.
“We have women pilots flying transport aircraft and helicopters. We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women of India,” Raha said at the annual Air Force Day parade at Hindon airbase.
The move marks a significant shift from the IAF’s policy of excluding women from combat roles.
For several years, the IAF has grappled with the issue of allowing women pilots into its combat wing, the last male bastion in the world’s fourth largest air force. Much of the debate has centred round whether women will be able to cope with the demands of controlling high performance combat aircraft.
The IAF’s move to put women at the controls of a fighter jet could lead to a rethink in the stance of the other two services.
The military appears to have come a long way since March 2007, when the Chiefs of Staff Committee -- a panel comprising the three service chiefs -- had advised the government against inducting women in close combat roles.
The Indian military currently has more than 3,250 women, but they have traditionally been kept away from close combat roles such as flying fighter jets and serving in the infantry, armoured corps and warships.
Shortly before his retirement in 2009, then IAF chief FH Major had said women could be flying fighter jets before 2014. “I am 100% sure that women will fly fighters in the next four to five years,” Major told Hindustan Times.
“The air force is conducting studies on physiological aspects (of inducting women in the fighter stream),” Major had said.
Women started serving in the air force in 1992 and there are 750-odd women among the 10,500 officers in the IAF.
The IAF spends upwards of Rs 12 crore on training a fighter pilot and the investment is recovered only after about 14 years.
The armed forces began inducting women in the early 1990s through short service commissions and the government began granting them permanent commissions in select arms and services only a few years ago.
The military has so far granted permanent commissions to 340 female officers, allowing them to serve till at least the age of 54.
Women pilots in the US Air Force have flown combat missions over Afghanistan and Iraq. Pakistan got its first batch of women pilots in 2006.