In September 2014, as Arab warplanes joined in the air attacks on ISIL in Iraq, it was revealed that one of the Arab pilots was a woman, a UAE (United Arab Emirates) F-16 pilot who had been at it long enough (seven years) to have become a squadron commander. This sort of thing is becoming more common in Moslem countries, and has long been customary in non-Moslem nations. Getting bombed by Arab warplanes was bad enough for ISIL (
(Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) but finding out that some of those strikes are led by an F-16 pilot who is a woman must have been particularly aggravating.
In 2013 Pakistan revealed that I had a female fighter pilot, flying a Chinese F7 (MiG 21 clone) jet. She was one of 316 women in the air force, which is more than three times what there were in 2008. But she is the only fighter pilot, one of the few in the Moslem world. Only about .7 percent of Pakistani military personnel are female, compared to 10-15 percent in most Western nations. The differences say a lot about the much greater effectiveness of Western armed forces.
Many countries have cultural problems with women in the military and particularly with female pilots. But there is a growing demand for female military pilots. That is because there are not enough qualified men. India and Pakistan (which graduated its first female pilots in 2009) are both 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. But in these two countries 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 to train. So the Indians are betting a lot of money and time on keeping their female pilots flying. 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.
Islamic nations have higher illiteracy rates overall and even higher rates for women. Because of that 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 there could be. 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 and many Moslem military leaders are taking note.
American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 have had a tremendous impact on Moslem attitudes towards women in the military. Moslems seeing so many American women serving in the military and being competitive at it had a big impact. Some 300,000 American military women served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 700 were killed or wounded in action. Moslem women and men were impressed with these infidels (non-Moslem) who were real soldiers. They wore the uniform, the body armor, carried weapons, and could fight. Despite resistance from many men, there is more pressure in Moslem countries to let women serve in the local military.
Pakistan, which saw female American troops passing through and heard a lot of the stories of these women warriors doing their jobs next door in Afghanistan, is witnessing growing pressure to allow Pakistani women to operate like American women in the military. Currently, Pakistani attitudes towards women in the military are about a century behind the West. In the Pakistani military some 90 percent of the women serving are doctors and nurses. The rest are also technical specialists, brought in mainly because there were not enough technically qualified men to meet the need.
One technical specialty that even Moslem nations turn to the women for is pilots. Noting the success of female military pilots in the United States since the 1980s 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.
American use of female military pilots goes back a long way. During World War II (1939-45) the United States used women pilots to ferry military aircraft around, including bringing them to the airfields where combat missions were flown from. These female pilots were considered civilian contractors but some male pilots could not help but notice that many of these women were very good pilots. In Russia the need for good pilots led to hundreds of women being put to work flying bombers and fighters in combat. But in Russia, as elsewhere, the women were removed from airplanes when the war was over. It took another three decades before the women regained in peacetime the jobs they had in wartime. Now several dozen nations, most in the West, employ women as military combat and non-combat pilots.
Worldwide women are increasingly part of the military. In many nations over ten percent of military personnel are female. In the U.S. military it’s now 15 percent. 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.