IAF showcases women power at US-led combat drills | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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IAF showcases women power at US-led combat drills

ByRahul Singh
Jun 06, 2024 07:42 AM IST

The Red Flag exercise involves primary flight operations over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and aircraft based at Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

NEW DELHI: Six women officers of the Indian Air Force are part of a 250-member Indian contingent taking part in the Pacific Air Forces-led multinational exercise ‘Red Flag-Alaska’ currently underway in the US to provide realistic training to air crews in a simulated combat environment, officials aware of the matter said on Wednesday.

India’s deputy ambassador to the US Sripriya Ranganathan (3rd from right) with IAF women officers taking part in exercise Red Flag-Alaska. (IAF Photo)
India’s deputy ambassador to the US Sripriya Ranganathan (3rd from right) with IAF women officers taking part in exercise Red Flag-Alaska. (IAF Photo)

Squadron Leader Shivangi Singh, India’s first woman Rafale pilot, is among them, the officials said, on condition of anonymity.

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The remaining women officers are in roles associated with maintenance and support of the IAF contingent, which includes eight Rafale fighter planes, three C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lifters and two Il-78 refuellers --- a mix of French, US and Russian platforms.

The Red Flag exercise, which began on May 30 and will end on June 14, involves primary flight operations over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC --- the US Department of Defence’s premier training venue in Alaska) and aircraft based at Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

Air crews from six global air forces, including the IAF, are using more than 77,000 square miles of airspace in JPARC, the world’s largest combat training range.

“The IAF contingent, including the women officers, are getting valuable exposure to joint warfighting tactics. The IAF is providing its women officers equal opportunity with men,” said one of the officials cited above.

In January 2023, Squadron Leader Avani Chaturvedi, the IAF’s first woman fighter pilot, became the first woman officer to take part in a joint international exercise, Veer Guardian -2023 in Japan.

A few months later, Squadron Leader Shivangi Singh, hailing from Varanasi, took part in the multi-national exercise Orion held at the Mont-de-Marsan base in France in April-May 2023. The drills featured four IAF Rafales, two C-17s, two ll-78s and 165 air warriors. It was the first overseas exercise for the IAF’s Rafale fighter planes.

Singh is from the Ambala-based No. 17 squadron, also known as ‘Golden Arrows.’ She joined the IAF in 2017.

IAF, the world’s fourth largest air force, currently accounts for more than 20 women fighter pilots. The service opened its fighter stream to women, a watershed in India’s military history, in 2016.

It has opened all frontiers for women and is giving them opportunities on a par with their male counterparts. The IAF has also begun inducting them in its non-officer cadre under the Agnipath scheme.

The IAF has also allowed women officers to join the elite Garud commando force, provided they meet the criteria for selection. Last year, a woman officer, Group Captain Shaliza Dhami, took charge of a frontline IAF combat unit for the first time. Dhami, a helicopter pilot, is commanding a missile squadron near the India-Pakistan border in Punjab.

The Indian military has come a long way since it began inducting women as short-service commissioned officers in the early 1990s.

Women in uniform are no longer on the fringes but are being assigned key roles alongside their male counterparts across the three services. They are flying fighter planes, serving on board warships, commanding front-line units, being inducted in the PBOR (personnel below officer rank) cadre, eligible for permanent commission, and undergoing training at the National Defence Academy.

To be sure, tanks and combat positions in the infantry are still no-go zones for women in the army.

On Monday, India’s deputy ambassador to the US Sripriya Ranganathan visited the Eielson Air Force Base and interacted with the IAF contingent. She was also briefed on the exercise by the base commander.

Red Flag-Alaska is designed to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment enabling joint combined forces to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures while improving interoperability with fellow servicemembers, the Pacific Air Forces, headquartered in Hawaii, said in the run-up to the exercise.

Around 3,100 service members are flying, maintaining and supporting more than 100 aircraft taking part in the drills.

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