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SOURCE: INDIA TODAY

The Indian Air Force’s all-male Rafale squadron in Ambala is all set to get its first woman fighter pilot soon. India Today has learnt that one of the IAF’s 10 current active woman fighter pilots is undergoing conversion training and will begin active duties flying Rafale jets with the 17 Squadron soon.

The IAF’s first 5 Rafale fighters were ceremonially inducted into the Golden Arrows squadron on September 10 in Ambala. Since late August, the jets have flown familiarisation sorties over Ladakh, even landing in Leh on occasion as part of an operational work-up ahead of full operational readiness.

More Rafales will be arriving in October and December, with all 36 on order to be inducted by late 2021.

The woman pilot, who India Today will not identify owing to service sensitivities, has been through the full fighter training course so far and is already operational on MiG-21 fighters.

Women fighter pilots undergo an identical training regimen as their male counterparts. Once they are operational on a fighter type, they undergo conversion training, which as the phrase suggests, is a curriculum pilots need to take when they switch from flying one aircraft to another.

In this case, the woman pilot will be converting from MiG-21 Bison to the Rafale, a vastly different and more modern jet in all respects.

The IAF’s 10 women pilots have flown a variety of jets so far, including the Su-30 MKI and MiG-29 UPG. Flt Lt Avani Chaturvedi, Flt Lt Bhawanna Kanth and Flt Lt Mohana Singh became the first women fighter pilots in 2016.

The government cleared women for fighter flying in 2016. So far, 10 women fighter pilots have been commissioned, with more in the pipeline each year.

“Women fighter pilots are inducted and deployed in IAF as per strategic needs and operational requirements within the laid down policy, which is reviewed from time to time,” India’s Minister of State for Defence stated in Parliament last week.

With a required or sanctioned pilot strength of 4,231, the Indian Air Force currently has a pilot shortage of over 300. This number is spread across fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters.

While the number of women fighter pilots entering service is still modest, it is being seen as a healthy start that should grow into higher numbers in the years ahead.