Woman pilot picked for Rafale, two others set to fly warship choppers
NEW DELHI: Get ready to soon see a woman tear into the skies in the new omnirole Rafale fighter , which can also deliver nuclear weapons. Don't also be taken aback if you finally spot women on board an Indian warship on the high seas.
IAF has short-listed one of its 10 women fighter pilots to fly the spanking new Rafale jets at the Ambala airbase, even as the Navy also gets set to deploy two women officers as part of the crew for multirole helicopters that operate from front-linewarships. The twin moves herald a new chapter in the long-standing tussle to ensure the requisite gender equality in the 15-lakh strong armed forces. They also come at a time the Army is conducting a special board this month to finally grant permanent commission to women officers, though it still has no plans to allow them in the main fighting arms of infantry, mechanised forces and artillery.
Though IAF has had women transport and helicopter pilots for long, it steadfastly resisted inducting women in its combat stream on the ground that it would disrupt "tight fighter-flying schedules" if they got married and had children. The force contended that it, after all, took around Rs 15 crore to train a single fighter pilot.
But the entrenched mindset has been shattered in recent years. Since 2016, IAF has inducted 10 women as fighter pilots, with Flight Lieutenant Avani Chaturvedi scripting history by becoming the first to fly a solo sortie in a MiG-21 'Bison' in February 2018. Flying an advanced 4.5-generation fighter like Rafale would be a breeze as compared to the old and highly-demanding MiG-21. IAF does not want the woman officer to be named as yet. But she is set to undergo "conversion training" to fly the Rafales with the 17 'Golden Arrows' Squadron at Ambala after becoming "fully-ops (operational)" on MiG-21s.
The Navy, on its part, proudly announced that Sub-Lieutenants Kumudini Tyagi and Riti Singh will be the first women "airborne combatants" to operate from warships. The two got their "wings" as "observers" to handle the myriad sensors and other systems on board multi-role helicopters, which are armed with weapons to take on enemy submarines, at naval air station INS Garuda in Kochi on Monday.
"We can't wait to be on board warships. This is the ultimate opportunity to finally move into the front-line role of naval operations," said Sub-Lt Singh. Till now, women have only been allowed on fixedwing aircraft like P-8Is and Dorniers, which take off and land ashore. The Navy, however, for now has no plans to allow women on board submarines also. The process has to be gradual because it will pose administrative and operational challenges. There are also infrastructure constraints because the majority of Indian warships are cramped, with no separate bathrooms, cabins and other facilities for women, say officers.
"The newer warships, like the indigenous Shivalikclass frigates and Kolkataclass destroyers, have the facilities. The training of women as 'airborne combatants' will ultimately pave the way for their deployment in such frontline warships," said an officer.