Britain is sending its first female fighter squadron commander (of 31 Squadron), RAF Squadron Leader Elle Hillard, to Afghanistan. A Squadron Leader is the equivalent of of a USAF Major. Two years ago, a U.S. Navy F-18 pilot, Commander (equivalent of a USAF Lieutenant Colonel) Sara Joyner, completed her tour as the first female commander of a navy combat squadron (VFA 105). This included a seven month cruise to the Persian Gulf aboard the USS Harry S. Truman. Like Hillard, both women are also married to military pilots. Joyner entered the military in the 1980s, Hillard, a decade later. Twelve of the 708 Tornado and Eurofighter pilots in the Royal Air Force are women.
Noting the success of female military pilots in the United States over the last three decades, an increasing number of other countries are moving in that direction as well. The reason is simple, many of the women who go through flight training turn out to have better flying skills than the average male pilot. But the traditional fear of women getting killed in combat still plays a role. For example, India is at war with Islamic terrorists in Kashmir. While female police and government workers are at risk of injury from terrorist attack, that is not considered the same as the risk to female pilots flying in the area. So, bowing to real, or imagined, public opinion, the Indian Air Force quietly transferred female pilots who were in squadrons that flew into Kashmir or near the Pakistani border.
Earlier, the Indian armed forces conducted studies of women in combat, and concluded that there was no practical reason for keeping women from these duties. There are currently nearly 2,000 female officers in the Indian armed forces. Most are in the army, but 39 percent are in the air force, and over fifty of them are pilots. China recently had its first 16 female fighter pilots graduated from a 44 month course. The young lieutenants (age 21-24) are not the first female Chinese military pilots, as there were already 52 in service (flying non-combat aircraft) and another 545 in training.
India, and even Pakistan (which graduated its first female pilots in 2006) are having a hard time keeping male pilots in uniform. Too many of the men depart for more lucrative, and less stressful, careers as commercial pilots. Women may not be the solution. Currently, only about half of women officers stay in past their initial five year contract. Indian women, even military pilots, are under tremendous social and family pressure to marry. Those that do may still be pilots, but married women are under a lot of pressure to have children. The Indian Air Force provides its female officers with ten months leave for this, six months during pregnancy, and four months after delivery. The air force does this because pilots are very expensive to train. Fuel costs the same everywhere, as do spare parts. So what India may save in lower salaries, is not enough. A good pilot costs over half a million dollars for training expenses, and takes over five years. So the Indians are betting a lot of money, and time, on their female pilots. Many women are willing to take up the challenge. But they have already heard from their peers in Western air force, that motherhood and piloting can be a very exhausting combination.
Worldwide, women are increasingly part of the military. In many nations, over ten percent of military personnel are female. A century ago, it was under one percent (and most of those were nurses and other medical personnel.) More women are in uniform now because there aren't enough qualified men, especially for many of the technical jobs armed forces now have to deal with.
Islamic nations have higher illiteracy rates overall, and very high rates for women. These nations have a severe shortage of technically trained people. Those women that do get an education in Islamic cultures tend to be very bright and able. So there's a need, and a solution close at hand. But because of those religious restrictions, and the generally very macho attitudes in Islamic nations, there will never be as many women in uniform as are needed. This means that Islamic armed forces will continue to come up short when it comes to maintaining and using military technology. The future of military operations is more technology, so you can see where this is leading. No wonder Islamic radicals want to go back to the past. Unfortunately, the non-Moslem world is not inclined to join them. Taking a knife to a gun fight doesn't work.