India will induct women as fighter pilots in its air force soon, a senior officer said Thursday.
“We have women pilots flying transport aircraft and helicopters. We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women in India,” Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said.
Raha was speaking on Air Force Day at an air base on the outskirts of New Delhi.
India had refused to allow women to join fighter squadrons owing to fears of torture if they were captured in combat.
In rercent years, women in several countries including India’s neighbours China and Pakistan, have been allowed to fly combat jets.
The government was expected to give final approval to the change, according to an air force source who requested anonymity.
There are currently over 100 women pilots in the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Women officers have not been allowed combat roles in the Indian armed forces. They have mostly served in the administrative, medical and education branches since the early 1990s.
Once the go ahead is given, the air force will be the first Indian military service to have women in active front-line combat, broadcaster NDTV reported. In the navy, women cannot serve on warships and in the army, they cannot join the infantry, armoured corps or the artillery.
Officials said it was a significant move for women’s empowerment in a country that has had women holding powerful positions in key areas including politics and business.
“We feel so proud and happy that women officers have been given this opportunity, the way we have been proving ourselves,” a woman IAF pilot told NDTV. “They [air force] were so confident in us that they took the decision,” she said.