NEW DELHI: In a historic move, Indian Air Force has decided to allow women to be inducted as fighter pilots. The decision was announced at the 83rd anniversary of the IAF at Hindon air force base on Thursday. Air Chief Arup Raha, who announced the move, had earlier expressed his apprehensions about women's limitations in combat roles because of their physicality. He had said then that women's bodies are not suited for long hours in a jet plane, especially during pregnancy.

"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 Raha said as the air force celebrated its 83rd anniversary in Hindon, Uttar Pradesh.

The decision puts India in parallel to countries like Pakistan, UAE, Canada, France, UK, Norway, and Germany. Earlier, women were allowed in non-combat roles like logistics, meteorology, navigation, accounts, education, and other administration works.

Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar too had reserved support for induction of women as fighter pilots. "Imagine what enemy may do to them in case they are taken as prisoners," he had exclaimed. But it has been realized now that the fighter pilots are not required to engage with enemies in close proximity, like what is done in army. Moreover, the advances in technologies have also allayed some of the hardships which may have hindered women’s competence in comparison to men. Air Force is the only wing of the three which has now allowed the role as combatants for women.

It is not quite clear why Raha's decision has come now in the form which is opposite to his earlier stance, but a stark shortage of squadrons active for combat also may be seen as an impetus. It was observed that in situation of a collusive war (Pakistan and China) IAF would need 45 squadrons while there are only 35 on active duty. So the extra numbers in women jet fighters may be sought by the government to fill that gap.