The Indian Air Force (IAF) has said it will have its first female fighter pilots within the next two years. The move could open the door to women across the military sector.
In a statement released on Saturday, India's Defense Ministry said the decision was made because Indian female pilots' performances have been "on a par with males" in flying transport aircraft and heavy-lift helicopters.
Training for the female pilots is scheduled to begin next year, with the aim for the first pilots to be in the cockpit by 2017. Other countries which already allow women to fly fighter jets include the US, Israel, Pakistan and France.
"With this decision to open up induction of women in the fighter stream, women have become eligible for induction in all branches and streams of the IAF," the statement said.
"This progressive step is in keeping with the aspirations of Indian women and is in line with contemporary trends in armed forces of developed nations," it added.
India's decision could now pave the way for Indian women to take up combat roles for the first time in one of the world's largest militaries. There are currently more than 100 female pilots in the IAF, but they are not exposed to direct combat.
"Once finalized, more and more branches would be opened up for induction of women to give them the space which they deserve in the Armed Forces of the country," the Defense Ministry said.
Fears over assault
India was previously hesitant to allow women to take on such roles over fears of leaving them more vulnerable sexual assault. Other concerns included accommodation and physical fitness.
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said last year that "women are by nature not physically suited for flying fighters for long hours."
Since Raha's comments, growing numbers of female officers have taken cases to court, demanding better working conditions and permanent commissions instead of temporary contracts of five to 10 years.
According to government figures, women currently account for some 5 percent of around 1.32 million active personnel and 2.14 million reservists in India's defense forces.
ksb/cmk (AFP, AP)