Subject: "WOMEN FIGHTER PILOTS" - LETTER TO INDIAN EXPRESS
Reference Gautam Datt's " IAF not yet ready to have women pilots " - (TNIE-18 NOV).
For starters, the title of the report is ' misleading ', as women pilots in the IAF are already flying in the ' transport ' and ' helicopter ' squadrons !! This is tacitly acknowledged
in the report: ' The IAF thinks it is economically unfeasible to have women fighter pilots - -' !! Thus ' Not ready to have women pilots ' in the headline, becomes ' economically unfeasible to have women fighter pilots' !! Talk of ' journalistic accuracy '!!
That apart, there is another infirmity in the report: ' Several air forces around the world have allowed women to be fighter pilots '. That doesn't answer the crucial question: ' Do women fighter pilots FLY COMBAT MISSIONS'?
It will be instructive and educative for Datt & Co at TNIE to note, since we Indians have this slavish habit of 'aping the West', that in 1992, the United States constituted a Presidential Commission for precisely this purpose – to study the role of women in the American military. This is what the commission report stated bluntly :
" Decisions on the principle questions before the Commission -- whether American women should be assigned to combat on land, at sea or in the air -- involved a wide variety of issues and concerns. They include the history and nature of war, physiology, psychology, sociology, family and cultural values, the legal consequences of a change in the law, and most importantly, the overarching, classic concerns of the military itself: combat readiness, unit cohesion and military effectiveness -- defined as the ability to deter aggression and if necessary, to fight and win wars".
Again. " Civilian society forbids employment discrimination. But the military, in building fighting units, must be able to choose those most able to fight and win in battle. There is good reason for this. In a combat unit serving on land, at sea or in the air, the inability of any member of the group to perform at levels demanded by the battlefield can present a direct risk to the lives of others and to the accomplishment of the military mission . This is one of several reasons why the Armed Forces differ in many important respects from civilian employers, including police forces that preserve order close to home. It is a separate society governed by a different set of rules and regulations because its principle purpose is to fight and win wars".
The Commission then concluded : " Service members are encouraged to pursue opportunities and career enhancements in the Armed Forces, limited only by the needs and good of the Service. But when it comes to combat assignments, the needs of the military must take precedence over all other considerations, including the career prospects of individual service members. The military service is not a corporation, and being a soldier, sailor or airman is more than just a job. Civil society protects individual rights, but the military, which protects civil society, must be governed by different rules".
A similar study was undertaken by the British military too in 2002 and its findings, in essence, were no different from the findings of the US Presidential Commission. An extensive study ordered by British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon had reportedly recommended that women should not be allowed to fight in the front line. Citing evidence gathered over 18 months, the "Combat Effectiveness Gender Study" concluded that females lack the strength and stamina needed to serve in the infantry, armored regiments, Royal Marines or the RAF Regiment, the Air Force’s infantry unit.
In compiling the study for review by the Chiefs of Staff, British Army officials gathered information from several other countries with gender-integrated armed forces, and carried out tests of physical capabilities in Wales. According to the London Sunday Times, June 24, 2001, the women performed comparatively poorly in physical tasks. According to Army Times, a British medical report released in June of 2001 found that the rate of injuries among military women in co-ed training had tripled to 23 per 1,000 in 1996, from a 1992 rate of 8 per 1,000. (June 25, 2001) On January 3, 2002, an Army doctor confirmed that female soldiers were paying for "equal opportunities" with a much higher risk of injury.
The Ministry of Defence (U.K.) study concluded that it could not predict with certainty the impact on infantry and armor units from introducing women into their ranks. Secretary Hoon affirmed on May 22 that he was not prepared to risk the effectiveness of front-line infantry and armored combat teams in the absence of any hard evidence that allowing women to serve in such units would increase their capabilities. Women in the British military will be allowed to serve in 70 percent of all army roles, but they will be kept out of units that must "close with the enemy."
The IAF Vice Chief was spot on when he stated: " India can select some women to be fighter pilots, but they would be merely showpieces - -". And then have them posted at Southern Air Command, Trivandrum, or Car Nicobar, but not at Halwara, Adhampur or Pathankot etc!! Does Gautam Datt have any inkling of what it takes to fly a 'combat sortie' in a high performance fighter like the SU30-MKI? Does he have any knowledge of the physical effort it takes to be a ' Fighter Combat Leader ', and the toll it takes on the human body when one pulls 4 or 5G? Can a woman fighter pilot stand up to the physical rigours of being strapped to the cockpit in the 'Operational Readiness Platform'? Lastly, does Datt have any idea of the ethos of a 'Fighter Squadron' of the IAF?
This report reminded me of a similar media created controversy in 2006, on the statement of 'Women in Cambat Units' of the Army, by the then Vice Chief of Army Staff - Lt.Gen S.Pattabiraman. It died a 'natural death', but not before 'muck' was raised by the rabble rousers in the polity, much to the detriment of the Indian Army. I also query Datt as to what has the President flying in a SU30 for 10 or 20 minutes in most probably 'level flight' got to do with regular women fighter pilots in combat squadrons? Regret to say the analogy is wide off the mark!!
Lt.Gen.(retd) R.Narasimhan, wrote in the media on 02 Apr 2002:
" Unfortunately we do not have trained war correspondents who can analyse the strategic scenario and come to the right conclusions. In this day of instant TV wrong projections are made much to the detriment of the security of the country and morale of the Armed Forces who are doing their duties in an exemplary manner". How True Sir !!
Capt(retd) H.Balakrishnan, I.N.