Women to be inducted as fighter pilots: IAF chief

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 aircrafts and helicopters, we are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women of India,” Raha said at the 83rd Air Force Day parade at Hindon air base on the outskirs of the national capital.

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.”

“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 flyin 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 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.

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