India's air force has decided to induct women to fly its warplanes. This is the first time that the country's armed forces are planning to appoint women to combat roles.
"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," Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Arup Raha said on Thursday. He was speaking on Air Force Day at a base close to the capital, New Delhi.
Raha described it as a "progressive" step and said he would not see any "incongruence" were women to fight in real combat scenarios.
Female IAF officers called the announcement a significant moment in women's empowerment in India. "We feel so proud and happy that women officers have been given this opportunity, the way we have been proving ourselves," one told the NDTV news channel.
The air force's move will also help ease a shortage of fighter pilots.
The IAF employs more than 1,300 women, of whom 94 are pilots and 14 are navigators. Female officers usually serve in the logistics, meteorology, navigation, education and engineering departments.
Women have been kept away from the battlefield because of fears that they could be tortured if they were captured in combat.
The IAF is the first of India's three military branches to give women a role in combat. Women in the navy are not allowed to serve on warships, and women in the army cannot join infantry or artillery units.
mg/mkg (PTI, dpa)