The Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to allow women to fly combat missions by June 2017, according to a press release from India’s Ministry of Defense.
The ministry has “approved the induction of women into the Fighter (Combat) stream of the IAF,” the statement reads. That marks a first for one of the world’s largest militaries (though India’s archrival, Pakistan, already inducted its first five female fighter pilots in 2013).
“This progressive step is in keeping with the aspirations of Indian women and is in line with contemporary trends in armed forces of developed nations,” the press release continues.
There are currently 1,500 women serving in the IAF, including 94 pilots and 14 navigators. However, female pilots and navigators have so far been confined to non-combat roles and serve in transport and helicopter units. “Inducting women into the fighter stream would provide them with an equal opportunity to prove their mettle in combat roles,” the defense ministry statement notes.
The first seven women fighter pilots will be selected from the cadets currently undergoing officer training at India’s Air Force Academy at Dindigul, in southern India. Basic flying training is slated to begin seven months from now. After successfully completing training, the female pilots will be assigned to the IAF’s fighter stream in 2016, and, after 12 more months of further instructions, be commissioned as fighter pilots.
The IAF’s decision constitutes a major victory for women serving in the Indian military. It was only in 2010 that the Delhi High Court ruled that women are allowed to hold permanent commissions in the Army and Air Force, noting that female officers “deserve better from the government.” Another recent ruling in a case brought forward by female naval officers noted that the High Court would “frown upon any endeavor to block progress of women” in the military.
In 2014, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said that women “by nature [are] not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems.” That led to an increase in the number of court cases brought forward by female officers demanding more equality and better treatment in the armed forces.
Raha apparently had a change of heart on this issue. Last month, during a speech at the 83rd Air Force Day, he said, “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.”
As I reported previously (See: “The Indian Air Forces Big Problem: Not Enough Fighter Pilots!”), a report of a parliamentary committee from April 2015 found that India is facing a critical shortage of pilots. Opening up the fighter stream to female top guns might help alleviate this shortfall.