Women make up about 8.5 percent of the Indian Air Force, and are limited to non-combat roles. Image courtesy of the Indian Air Force
GHAZIABAD, India, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Indian Air Force Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha told reporters women will soon fly fighter jets, as the force marks its 83rd anniversary on Thursday.
Raha said women already fly transport aircraft and helicopters, and that the Indian Air Force has plans to induct them into fighter positions, according to Indian news network NDTV.
"I have no doubt that women will be able to overcome any physical limitations to become fighter pilots," he said.
Currently, there are about 1,500 women serving in the Indian Air Force, making up about 8.5 percent of total personnel. This includes 94 pilots and 14 navigators. Historically, women were excluded from fighter pilot positions, like other combat positions, out of fear they would be subject to rape or torture in the event they were captured by an enemy. Women also hold administrative, medical and education positions within the Air Force, and are sometimes taken on aircraft as observers.
The announcement marks a change of heart for the Air Chief. The Indian Express reported Raha claimed in March of last year women are not physically suited to fly on fighter planes.
However, the Air Chief's proposal needs approval from India's Ministry of Defense, which has historically barred women from combat roles across the military.
"Think of what can happen if a woman is taken as a prisoner in combat operation," Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said at a parliament hearing earlier this year.