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Air Force plans for women to fight wars: will they fly in the face of conventional non-combat roles?

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha announced Thursday that the Indian Air Force would soon have women fighter pilots.

Written by Pranav Kulkarni | New Delhi |
October 8, 2015 6:06:36 pm
indian air force, iaf, iaf day, iaf women pilot, indian air force women pilot, arup raha, iaf chief, iaf chief women pilot, defence news, indian army, latest news, india news Indian Air Force women officers lead a marching contingent during the Indian Air Force Day parade at Hindon Air Force base near New Delhi on Thursday. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on Thursday said that that the IAF plans to induct women in the fighter stream of the IAF. Raha’s statement marks a shift from his own words in 2012 when he had said that women are “physically not suited” for flying fighter jets.

Raha says the IAF has sent the proposal to the defence ministry. He added at a press conference that a larger transition would be to ultimately clear women to operate behind enemy lines. The proposal, if cleared, may pave way
for women in combat roles in all the three services.

As of now, women are inducted into the armed forces in non-combat roles. In June 2010, the government had directed the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), a high level body consisting of the three service chiefs, to prepare a policy paper on induction of women in Armed Forces. The paper, which was submitted to the ministry in August 2011, recommended the induction of women “in all branches and streams except fighter streams of flying branch”.

The report underlined the observation of a study carried out by HQ Integrate Defence Staff (IDS) which recommended against the induction of women in combat roles. This was followed by a long legal battle which compelled the Army and the Air Force to extend permanent commission to women in the “non combat” branches. There are close to 100 women pilots in the transport and helicopter branches of the IAF.

Most recently, a group of 17 women Navy officers sought permanent commission in non combat branches of the Navy.

The government has on various occasions indicated its reluctance to induct women in combat roles. Former defence minister A K Antony had said in 2013 that there is no proposal to induct women in combat duties “including as fighter pilots”. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar too had cited the recommendations of the two committees. Questions have been raised regarding women’s leadership abilities, their physical capability and most importantly the repercussions in case they are taken as PoWs or hostages.

While over a dozen countries such as Canada, Denmark, France, Israel and Pakistan permit women combat duties, a comprehensive study on the role of women in combat was carried out by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence in 2009. The report cited how in a country like Israel, despite women being allowed to join combat on paper, more women served in non combat positions consistent with “gender role expectations”.

The report concluded by saying, “The policies on exclusion of women from close combat roles were instigated when there was a clearly defined front-line, but with the advent of asymmetric warfare many women in supporting roles have since found themselves drawn into close combat situations. Policies on the close combat exclusion of women may therefore need to reviewed.”

In India too the role for women in combat maybe set for a rethink.

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