Women fly high in the armed forces but remain a tiny minority | India News

NEW DELHI: Slowly but surely, often with the help of the Supreme Court, women are breaking multiple glass ceilings in the predominantly male environs of the armed forces.
There are now 15 female IAF fighter pilots as well as 145 female helicopter and transport aircraft pilots across the three services, while 28 have also been deployed to front line warships and 100 are become trained military policewomen.
But the latest statistics presented to Parliament by the Ministry of Defense on Monday show that women are still a tiny minority in the more than 14 lakh strong armed forces despite being enthroned as officers since the early 1990s.
Women number just 3,904 (Army 1,705, IAF 1,640 and Navy 559) as part of the approximately 70,000 officers in the armed forces, despite a shortage of more than 9,000 officers. Separately, there are 1,666 female doctors, 189 dentists and 4,734 nurses in the military medical stream.
There are now also 100 female Jawans in the Military Police Corps (MPC) after the military first began recruiting women into “other ranks” in 2019-20. The recruitment of 199 additional female CMPs over the past two years has been suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The military general staff has long opposed the induction of women in greater numbers, assigning them combat roles or granting them standing commission (PC) on the grounds of “operational, practical and cultural issues”.
But these ingrained mentalities are gradually being abandoned. With the Supreme Court cracking the whip, 685 female army officers now have PCs, while the figures for the IAF and navy are 381 and 49.
Again with the intervention of the Supreme Court, 19 female cadets are set to join the Tri-Service National Defense Academy from July this year as part of a new squadron called “Sierra” for the three-year course. . The girls’ sheer enthusiasm to join the army can be gauged by the fact that up to 1.16 lakh of them passed the written exam.
The combat exclusion policy was shattered when the IAF inducted three female fighter pilots in 2016. Today, 15 of them fly supersonic aircraft like MiG-21s, Sukhoi-30MKIs and even the brand new Rafale. Previously with the cost of Rs 15 crore to train a single fighter pilot, the IAF used to argue that inducting women into the fighter stream would disrupt ‘tight fighter flying schedules’ if they got married and had children.
Women pilots also fly high in helicopters like the Mi-17s, Dhruvs, Cheetahs and Chetaks as well as planes like the AN-32s, Dorniers and Avros. There is even a female IAF pilot at the controls of the gigantic C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft.
In the navy, after a 23-year hiatus, there are now 28 female officers deployed on frontline warships like the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier, Kolkata-class guided-missile destroyers, Shivalik-class stealth frigates and oil tankers.
The army, however, still does not allow women to join the main combat arms like infantry, mechanized infantry, artillery and armored corps, although at least five of the “support arms in combat” were for the first time allowed to be promoted to the rank of Colonel (timescale).
“The philosophy of the combat employment of women in the armed forces is a
constantly evolving process and regularly reviewed by them,” Deputy Defense Minister Ajay Bhatt told Rajya Sabha on Monday.