India’s first three women fighter pilots will be inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) on June 18, according to local media reports.
Following their induction, the three pilots—Bhawana Kanth, Mohana Singh, and Avani Chaturvedi—will be transferred to Bidar in Karnataka, a state in the southwestern region of India, to continue their training and learn to fly Hawk jet-powered trainer aircraft, built under license in the country by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, according to The Economic Times.
Originally, six female cadets were selected to undergo officer training at India’s Air Force Academy at Dindigul, in southern India, in order to compete for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) fighter stream. However, only three ended up qualifying.
“As of now, three women trainees have volunteered to join the fighter stream. They are under the second phase of their training. Once they complete their training and are at par with their male colleagues and the passing out parade is scheduled on June 18,” Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said on International Women’s Day in March.
“I must thank the Defense Minister for having approved IAF’s proposal to induct women as fighter pilots and very soon on 18th June this year, Indian Air Force will get its first woman fighter pilot,” he added.
In October 2015, the Indian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying that it “approved the induction of women into the Fighter (Combat) stream of the IAF.” “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.”
Air Marshall Raha struck a different note in 2014 when he 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.” Raha’s statement led to a number of law suits by female officers demanding equality and better treatment in the Indian military.
As I reported previously:
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 three pilots are expected to complete their next training phase by June 2017, after which they will fly fighter jets for the first time. Pakistan inducted its first female fighter pilot in 2013. There are about 20 women fighter pilots serving the in Pakistan Air Force. In November 2015, Pakistan’s first female fighter pilot was killed in a crash during a routine training mission.