NEW DELHI: What began as an experiment to allow women to fly fighter jets into the Indian Air Force (IAF) six years ago will become a permanent feature, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday. He said the government has decided to turn the experimental scheme, announced in 2015, into involving women as fighter pilots into a permanent scheme.
“It is a testament to the ability of ‘Nari Shakti’ of India and the commitment of our Prime Minister Shri @narendramodi to empowerment of women,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Sixteen women have been assigned as fighter pilots after the experimental scheme for their introduction into the IAF fighter jet was implemented in 2016, a watershed in the history of the Air Force. “The Department of Defense has given approval to make it a permanent scheme,” an IAF spokesman said.
The development comes at a time when new doors are open for women in the armed forces – the Navy is continuing with a plan to give them more opportunities to serve on board warships alongside their male counterparts, the Indian Army has allowed them to helicopters to be flown and they are eligible for permanent commission.
Also, the National Defense Academy was set up to introduce its first party of female cadets in June 2022. In October 2021, the Supreme Court opened the doors of the Academy for Women in a striking order.
In addition to IAF’s latest Rafale jets, IAF’s female pilots also serve the MiG-21s, Sukhoi-30s and MiG-29 fighters. Refugee Lieutenant Shivangi Singh, the country’s first Rafale pilot, was part of the IAF board that was seen in the Republic Day parade last week.
“Women fly top-end fighter jets including the Rafales and Su-30s. The decision to change the experimental scheme to a permanent one is a recognition of their capabilities. They have performed very well in all branches of IAF,” said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), Director-General, Center of Air Power Studies.
There are currently more than 9,000 women serving in the Army, Navy and Air Force. With the services giving them more opportunities to stimulate career progression, the number of women in the armed forces has almost tripled in the last seven years.
While women were now allowed to fly fighter jets and serve on warships; tanks and combat positions in the infantry are still no-go zones. They were allowed to join the armed forces outside the medical stream for the first time in 1992.
In May 2021, the Army introduced the first group of women into the Corps of Military Police, the first time they were allowed to join the military in the non-officer cadre.