At the Indian Air Force Academy at Dundigal, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar formally commissioned the nation’s first three female fighter pilots. Flying Officers Avani Chaturvedi, Bhavana Kanth and Mohana Singh – all in their early twenties and each with about 150 flying hours to their credit – will now move on training on the BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainer at Bidar in Karnataka before being assigned to active service squadrons. The three were among 22 female cadets commissioned in the passing out ceremony.
Although a historic move, the Indian Air Force already has 94 pilots in its rotary wing and transport fleets. The three young officers now breaking new ground will be the subject of intense scrutiny as the service examines the progress of women in combat roles on an “experimental basis” for the next five years. Neither the Army nor the Navy have any current plans to induct women into combat units or warships, although President Pranab Mukherjee announced in February that all combat roles will be opened to women in the future.
Parrikar, a strong supporter of gender parity, hailed the event as a milestone and, while admitting there would be administrative obstacles to be overcome, stressed that women would come to play a significant role in the Indian armed forces over time.