Women fighter pilots in IAF not an experiment anymore, says Rajnath Singh
The Supreme Court opened the doors of the National Defence Academy to women in a landmark verdict in October 2021. The academy is set to induct its first batch of women cadets in June 2022.
NEW DELHI: What began as an experiment to allow women to fly fighter planes in the Indian Air Force (IAF) six years ago is set to become a permanent feature, defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday. He said the government has decided to convert the experimental scheme, announced in 2015, to induct women as fighter pilots into a permanent one.
“It is a testimony to the capability of India’s ‘Nari Shakti’ and our PM Shri @narendramodi’s commitment towards women empowerment,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Sixteen women have been commissioned as fighter pilots after the experimental scheme for their induction into the IAF’s fighter stream was implemented in 2016, a watershed in the air force’s history. “The defence ministry has given clearance to make it a permanent scheme,” an IAF spokesperson said.
The development comes at a time when new doors have been opened for women in the armed forces -- the navy is going ahead with a plan to give them more opportunities to serve aboard warships alongside their male counterparts, the Indian Army has allowed them to fly helicopters and they are eligible for permanent commission.
Also, the National Defence Academy is set to induct its first batch of women cadets in June 2022. The Supreme Court opened the doors of the academy to women in a landmark order in October 2021.
Apart from IAF’s latest Rafale jets, IAF’s women pilots are also operating the MiG-21s, Sukhoi-30s and MiG-29 fighters. Flight Lieutenant Shivangi Singh, the country’s first Rafale pilot, was part of the IAF tableau that featured in the Republic Day parade last week.
“Women are flying top-end fighter planes including the Rafales and Su-30s. The decision to convert the experimental scheme into a permanent one is an acknowledgement of their capabilities. They have performed exceedingly well in all branches of IAF,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre of Air Power Studies.
There are more than 9,000 women currently serving the army, navy and air force. With the services giving them more opportunities to boost career progression, the headcount of women in the armed forces has increased almost threefold over the last seven years.
While women have now been allowed to fly fighter planes and serve on warships; tanks and combat positions in the infantry are still no-go zones. They were permitted to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.
In May 2021, the army inducted the first batch of women into the Corps of Military Police, the first time they were allowed to join the military in the non-officer cadre.