Indian armed forces may see women in a larger combat role very soon. In a first of its own move, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is planning to induct women as fighter aircraft pilots. The IAF’s proposal is with the Defence Ministry and once cleared, it will take at least three years to have a fully operational woman fighter plane pilot, the Air Chief said on the occasion of 83rd anniversary of the IAF.
The plan to induct women into a fighting arm is a first in the three services which were earlier not open to the idea of women taking part in combat role.
“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 in India,” IAF Chief Arup Raha said at Hindon Air Force Stations while addressing the 83rd Air Force Parade.
Describing it as a “progressive step”, Air Chief Marshal Raha emphasised on the larger role for the women in direct combat.
“We have a lot of roles for fighter pilots or fighter aircraft within the country, especially air defence, training, qualified flying instructor. There are so many other tasks. So, if the need arises, they will also do proper combat roles. That is for the future to see. I don’t see any incongruence in women fighting it out in a real combat scenario,” Air Marshal Raha said.
Earlier, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had ruled out recruiting women for combat operations in the armed forces due to apprehensions about their safety but said they would be encouraged to join other operational areas with their inclusion being stepped up in phases.
Stressing that the IAF has been taking up the case with the government arguing that they would like to give opportunity to young women to fly fighter planes, Air Marshal Raha added “We have spoken to the Ministry of Defence. Our case is in the ministry. And I think it will be sanctioned. The faster the approval comes, the faster we would be successful in this endeavour”.
The air force has over 1,300 women on its rolls of which 94 are pilots and 14 navigators, while rest are spread across seven areas of administration, logistics, meteorology, navigation, education, aeronautical engineering — mechanical and electrical — and accounts.
“We have a lot of women officers in the air force. If you take the comparison of the three services, proportionately, the Indian Air Force has the highest number of women officers… They are performing duties in all the branches, including flying branch. We have about 110 of them flying helicopters and transport (aircraft),” Air Chief Marshal Raha added.
Globally, many countries like the US, Israel and Pakistan have women fighter pilots. The move is also expected to help IAF overcome shortage of officers in the fighter aircraft stream.
(With inputs from the PTI)