New Delhi, Oct 8 (IANS) Breaking another glass ceiling, the Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, said on Thursday that women would soon be inducted as fighter pilots, making the IAF the first of three services to have women in a 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 of India,” ACM Raha said at the 83rd Air Force Day parade at Hindon air base on the outskirts of the national capital.
Highly placed sources meanwhile said Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will meet the three service chiefs, ACM Raha, army chief General Dalbir Singh and the navy chief Admiral R.K. Dhowan, next week to discuss the issue.
Women pilots meanwhile welcomed the move.A
“We feel proud and thankful that chief has made this announcement. It gives us a feeling of parity in the force,” Squadron Leader Tina Mathew said.
“However, men and women are treated equally in the air force… we might be in different roles and may not be crossing over the territory but if need arise we will do whatever is in our nation’s interest,” she said.
The air force chief said it will take at least one year to start the process, and around three years before women would be flying fighters.
“The air force has the largest number of women in the three services. We have more than 1,300 women officers,” said ACM Raha, adding: “The air force has a different environment. We operate from bases, so women can have good opportunity to fly fighters.”A
“This is a progressive step. We want to progress… Many air forces have women fighter pilots,” he said.
He, however, added: “Women pilots may have problems in term of physical fitness but it can be overcome.”
Interestingly, on May 12, 2014, ACM Raha had said that women were not suited for flying fighters.
“As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it’s a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems,” he had told reporters in Kanpur.
Earlier this year, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also ruled out combat role for women.
Perhaps because of this, ACM Raha came up with a rider on Thursday, saying talks were on with the government on the issue and presently the proposal is with defence ministry.
“We want it to happen as soon as possible. We are talking with defence ministry and presently the case is with the ministry. I am sure it will be approved,” he said.
“I hope in one year we can see women being inducted as fighter pilots, but it will take time for the training. It will take at least three years to make it operational,” he said.
The Indian armed forces have so far shied away from inducting women in combat roles. Neighbour Pakistan already has at least five woman fighter pilots.
ACM Raha, however, said women fighter pilots might not necessarily be sent on cross-border combat missions in case of hostilities.
“Women fighter pilots need not necessarily get involved in combat across border. There are many tasks within the country,” said the air chief, adding: “If the need arises, they maybe sent.”
The IAF chief said that presently there are over 1,300 women officers, and 110 women pilots who fly transport aircraft and helicopters.
ACM Raha’s announcement comes after repeated denial by many of his predecessors as well as the political leadership against assigning women combat roles in the armed forces.
Women form a very minor section in the armed forces, with the IAF having the highest number at 1,350 followed by the army with 1,300 and the navy with 350 women officers, according to official information.
The 1.3 million-strong armed forces have 59,400 officers.
The US, Russian and Turkish air forces, among others permit women in combat roles.
Women were first inducted in the Military Nursing Service in 1927 and in the medical officers cadre in 1943.
They were enabled to join the armed forces in 1992 on short service commissions.
Women SSCOs are eligible for consideration for grant of permanent commission in specified branches in terms of Government Policy letters dated September 26, 2008 and November 11, 2011.
In a written reply in parliament in July, Parrikar had said so far, 340 Women SSCOs have been granted permanent commission in the armed forces.