In a landmark decision, first batch of women pilot will begin to train as fighter pilot in Indian Air force.Ministry of Defence has also given a nod to deploy women in combat role as fighter pilot on frontline aircraft after completion of one year advance training of selected candidates.
India’s Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had announced this week “We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women in India.”
This all comes after lot of hue and cry regarding preposterous gender discrimination in IAF by many women pilot who had been limited to flying transport aircraft and helicopters.
Let’s take a brief look in the issue.
Present situation of women in Air force
There are around 1,500 women in the Air Force, including 94 pilots and 14 navigators. At the moment, they serve as transport and helicopter pilots in the IAF but are not exposed to direct combat. With this decision, they have now become eligible for induction in all branches and streams of the IAF.
Why this shift in policy?
Historically, the armed forces employed women only as doctors or nurses, and started allowing them to serve as short service commission officers in the 1990s.
Then a slew of lawsuits against armed forces followed and Delhi High Court has, in recent years, issued two landmark orders: one in 2010, allowing permanent commission to them in both the Army and Air Force and the second, a few weeks ago, when a similar order was issued for the Navy.
What were the challenges?
Of the few arguments put forward by most forces, the primary one is the fear of women being taken prisoners of war, and the physically demanding nature of those jobs.
Interestingly, talking about Air force. This is what Chief Marshal had said in Kanpur in March 2014.
“As far as flying fighter planes is concerned, it is a very challenging job. Women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighter planes for long hours, especially when they are pregnant or have other health problems.”
Quite a compelling argument but obviously didn’t go down well in all faction of society.
There’s also an issue of ROI on women pilot.
The cost of training a fighter pilot is over Rs.13 crore, and the concern that women officers could get married, have children, and thus investment won’t be fully recovered.
Where are other nations on this issue?
Many countries already allow women to be fighter pilots.
Col. Jeannie Leavitt became the U.S.’s first female fighter pilot in 1993.
UK started employing women fighter pilots in 1994.
Infact, Pakistan welcomed Ayesha Farooq as its first qualified female fighter pilot in 2013.
Afghanistan’s first female fixed-wing military pilot, Niloofar Rahmani, flies a plane that ferries soldiers to battle. She has received threats from the Taliban.
Where are Army and Navy on this issue?
Soon after the announcement, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said he would hold a meeting with the three service chiefs next week to discuss induction of women into combat roles in the military.
Presently, these are the areas in respective forces where women are not deployed.
- Army– The Army does not allow women into infantry, armoured corps and the artillery.
- Navy- No posting on warship.
The same argument as stated before are applied on these.
Where are we headed?
While we have to see when Air force finally inducts a woman in combat role which is most likely to happen in 2017, We are yet to see major development in Navy and Army.
WSJ interviewed Ajey Lele, retired Indian Air Force Group Captain Ajey Lele, who is now an assistant director at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “It was not a decision that was taken all of a sudden. We have seen very competent women in the Air Force, which has boosted the confidence of the commanders.Women are just changing from a normal speed to supersonic” he added.
As for some positive news, The Ministry of Defence has taken up a comprehensive review pertaining to induction of women in Armed Forces both in short service commission and permanent commission (SSC & PC) and once finalised more and more branches would be opened up for women.
Note: Most of the facts and content has been sourced from The Hindu and WSJ India.