In a first for the Indian armed forces, IAF is planning combat role for women by inducting them as fighter aircraft 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 in India”, IAF Chief Arup Raha said in Hindon Air Base addressing the air warriors as the air force celebrated its 83rd anniversary. Describing it as a “progressive step”, Air Chief Marshal Raha said he does not see any “incongruence” in women fighting in a real combat scenario.
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, he told reporters. 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. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had in May 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.
Asked what steps would IAF take if a woman fighter pilot is shot down across the border, he said they “need not necessarily” go across. “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”, he said.
IAF currently has women in seven areas of administration, logistics, meteorology, navigation, education, aeronautical engineering, mechanical and electrical and accounts. The air force has over 1,300 women on its rolls of which 94 are pilots and 14 navigators. 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.
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