India will soon have women fighter pilots which will put them in combat positions in the Indian Air Force (IAF) for the first time,Indian Air Force chief Arup Raha said on Thursday. While Indian women have been serving in the forces since the early 1990s, they haven’t been allowed to have any combat roles. They could fly transport aircraft and helicopters in the Air Force, but could not tear into the skies as fighter pilots.
“We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women of India,” said Air Chief Marshal Raha. His announcement coincides with the 83rd anniversary of the birth of the IAF. Women officers in the other two services too have been kept away from combat roles. In the Navy, they cannot serve on warships and in the Army, they cannot join the infantry, armoured corps or artillery.
In the IAF, a major hindrance until now, according to military brass, was that it took well over Rs 13 crore to train a single fighter pilot, with the huge investment being recovered only over 13-14 years of active flying. Women fighter pilots, they believed, may get married, have children, and consequently disrupt the IAF’s tight flying schedules.
Still, there is a rethink in the IAF now, with women officers also increasingly winning their legal battles for permanent commission in the armed forces, instead of being allowed to serve just 14-15 years as short service commission officers. Also, with technological advancements making traditional attributes like physical toughness redundant for fighting roles, women officers have been making a push to be allowed to take up an increased role in the armed forces. Also, flying a fighter is significantly different from a ground combat role in close proximity to enemy forces.
Several women pilots have proven themselves flying helicopters and transport aircraft in high-risk rescue and other missions. Some have also flown sorties of AN-32 aircraft to the Advanced Landing Ground at Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in Ladakh. DBO, the world’s highest landing ground at 16,500 feet, is close to the frontline and is a critical supply line for troops posted at the Siachen Glacier. Women pilots have also proven themselves with the Ilyushin IL-76 heavy-lift transport aircraft, referred to in the Air Force as ‘Gajraj’, in difficult sorties to Leh. On Thursday, Air Chief Marshal Raha reviewed the IAF Day parade and flypast at the Hindon Air Force Station, to the northeast of Delhi