Air force women will fly fighter aircraft - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 9 October 2015

Air force women will fly fighter aircraft

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Oct 15

India’s women in uniform will soon smash a massive glass ceiling that has held for 83 years of the Indian Air Force’s history. On Thursday, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, announced that women would soon be cleared for flying fighter aircraft, for the first time allowing women into front line combat.

So far, the IAF’s 1,500 women officers have been employed in logistic and administrative roles. About a hundred have earned their pilots wings, but they fly only transport aircraft and helicopters. These women pilots actually do perform combat roles, but they do not share the glamour and machismo that fighter pilots the world over have traditionally arrogated to themselves.

In the sub-continent, Pakistan took the lead in allowing women into fighter cockpits. Now, says Raha, Indian women too will deliberately and knowingly fly into combat.

“We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women of India”, said the IAF chief.

Raha said a proposal has been sent to the defence ministry, and it is a matter of time before women fly fighters. Given the training required, it would be at least two-to-three years before India’s first women fighter pilots are commissioned into the IAF.

The modest and low-key Raha is proving to be an unexpectedly reformist air force chief. He has done more than any of his predecessors to induct the indigenous Tejas fighter into service, a step that will go a long way to revive falling squadron numbers. Now he has taken the reformist step of allowing women as fighter pilots.

The air force is now ahead of the army and navy, which are still dragging their feet in permitting women into combat roles. The barrier between combat and non-combat, though, is steadily blurring. Naval women officers are not permitted into the executive branch, which actually sails warships and mans (not yet “womans”) its weapons systems. Yet, these women physically sail into harms way as logistics and administrative officers on frontline warships.

Similarly, women army officers are not allowed to serve in the three combat arms: armoured corps, infantry and mechanised infantry. Even so, they perform equally dangerous jobs as officers in the engineers and signals and logistical services that operate at the frontlines.

Military sociologists have theorised that man’s urge to keep women away from frontline soldiering stems from the patrimonial urge to “protect the weaker sex” and safeguard them from rape and abuse. However, this argument has frayed as women increasingly went into combat and proved themselves the equal of men.

The army’s last line of defence against allowing women into ground combat roles is that their smaller physique prevents them from carrying heavy combat loads over long distances. Now, the US military, even the hyper-macho Marine Corps, is allowing women to join, provided they can meet the physical standards that men must display.

In India, the barriers have fallen more slowly. India’s military began taking in women officers in the early 1990s for a 5-year, short-service tenure. That was extended to ten years, then 14 years. In 2010, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of army and IAF women officers being allowed long-service, “permanent commissions”. Last month, the navy lost a case in the Delhi High Court, becoming the last of the three services allowing permanent commissions to women officers. 


  1. # rudyard kipling, the colonial era raj chronicler reminisced .... the twain shall never meet. he was referring to the sahibs and the natives. in the 1947 transfer of power the babu-bazaar biradri moved easily into the bungalows, clubs, exclusive preserves vacated by the departing colonials. keeping for themselves the colonial model of patronage and privilege for the ruling caste. whereas we should have fostered a new culture of merit, and built up a meritocracy.

    in the listing of countries with women in the military, the name of india is missing. included in the wikipedia compiled list are pakistan, bangladesh, sri lanka.

    evidently the fact that india has women in the officer ranks but no women in the enlisted ranks, including as non commissioned officers, has not been lost on the compilers. pakistan has had women in the armed forces since 1949, and by women this means enlisted women, what we call jawans, sepoys, beginning with the women's national guard, women's naval reserve.

    there are two indias. the india of the ordinary people, bharat, hindustan; and the india of the babu-bazaar biradri, the angrezi-indians. the latter live in a world of angrezi, speaking in hindi or marathi, telugu, tamil when to talk to the daily help, the car driver, the menials, like the soldier-servant euphemistically addressed as bhaiyya by the officers offspring. these children similarly chatter on in english, reverting to a stilted hindi, gujarati etc when they need to talk to their grandparents or the servants.

    women from the former train as nurses, and work in government hospitals. their pay scales commence at the Group C pay grades, and after decades of toil in the ward those lucky enough to reach the level of nursing superintendent are the only ones who reach the Group A pay scale. these women are mostly from low status, even junior caste families. nursing is not a prestige occupation among the dominant castes. in the case of military nurses, historically there have been significant number of military nurses who enter into a romantic relationship with military officers, many marry, and since the third pay commission many officers daughters too have opted for military nursing. as a consequence with persistent lobbying military nurses pay scales commence from the Group A, and the senior go all the way to the highest administrative grade scales, as well as military ranks.

    clearly there is a discrimination in public service employment opportunities loaded against those not from the angrezis.

    military officer selection is not a consequence of merit but an extension of patronage and privilege.

  2. Flying a combat aircraft is different from being on a ship or being in an army field unit. A fighter mission is a couple of hours at the most. Then it is back to base where life is almost like that of a civilian's.The debate on women being in ships is decades old and some suggestions made to accommodate this new fangled idea would have resulted in the life of HOD's onboard less comfortable than the junior most women onboard!!This would have been disastrous for morale and operational efficiency. If women are to be on ships it should be with no quarters asked and none given. The Indian military's history is centuries old and the systems and traditions have been evolved by visionary commanders who absolutely knew what the were talking. Changing this in all cases for TRPs and popularity is a stupid joke. What is more disconcerting is the undue civilian interference in matters military and the wobbling stance of senior officers who do not want to look like chauvinists. If women are to be in combat roles on ships and army units also, that should be on absolutely equal terms with their male counterparts. If we are not ready for that then we are not ready for women being on board ships. Don,t try to fix a system that aint broke.

  3. "Even so, they perform equally dangerous jobs as officers in the engineers and signals and logistical services that operate at the frontlines." - seriously ??

  4. Stupid decision. Putting political correctness before military preparedness.


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