History was scripted on Saturday when Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar formally commissioned three women fighter pilots along with flight cadets of various branches of the Indian Air Force at a combined graduation parade at the Air Force Academy in Dundigal. Flight cadets Avani Chaturvedi of Madhya Pradesh, Mohana Singh of Rajasthan and Bhawana Kanth of Bihar, all in their early-20s, usher in a new chapter for the Indian defence forces, which have for long opposed the induction of women in combat roles. For Mohana, whose father is a warrant officer in the IAF and grandfather served as a flight gunner at Aviation Research Centre, being a part of the defence forces was a foregone conclusion.
"I wanted to carry on the family legacy of serving the nation by being in defence and what better way than fighter-flying," she added. With an aim to fly the best of the IAF's fighter aircraft, Mohana aspires to make her parents proud of her. "I dream of being a part of future combat missions, and fight for the nation when duty calls," she added. Mohana, Avani and Bhawana will be awarded the President's Commission as flying officers of the fighter combat stream by defence minister Manohar Parrikar at the Combined Graduation Parade at Air Force Academy, Dundigal, on the outskirts of Hyderabad. They will then be posted to either the Bidar or Kalaikunda airbase to undertake "transitional" fighter training on the Hawks, which includes learning intensive combat manoeuvres and armament firing spread over a year to ensure the rookie pilots can handle highly-unforgiving old fighters like MiG-21s or relatively new multi-role ones like Sukhoi-30MKIs and Mirage-2000s.
Though the glass ceiling in the defence forces is now being gradually broken, the Army and Navy have no plans as of now to induct women into the infantry, armoured corps or artillery, nor allow them to serve on board warships. Even in the IAF, which has 94 women pilots flying its helicopters and transport aircraft, their entry into the fighter combat stream as short-service commission (SSC) officers has been done on an "experimental basis" for just five years. Each has cleared the first stage of training and has about 150 hours of flying. After getting their wings tomorrow as flying officers, they will train for six months on the Advanced Jet Fighter - the British-built Hawk - they will be assigned fighters and their squadrons. Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had earlier said that after being commissioned, they would go to the advanced jet training, and later proceed to the regular squads.
Raha, on the occasion of International Women's Day yesterday, announced that the nation will see its first batch of female fighter pilots on June 18. In February 2016, President Pranab Mukherjee had announced that all military combat roles will be opened to women in the future.