September 25, 2009:
Pakistan has seven female fighter pilots. They fly F-7s, a Chinese version of the Russian MiG-21. None have been in combat yet, despite the heavy use of jet fighter-bombers in nearly a year of fighting in the tribal territories. There, the more modern F-16s are doing most of the bombing of Taliban targets.
Women flying F-7s is a very recent development, part of a program that only began six years ago. Pakistan is not alone using women as fighter pilots, with China graduating its first 16 female fighter pilots this year. There are already 52 women flying non-combat aircraft, and another 545 in training. India has female military pilot, but still resists letting the women fly fighters.
All this began with the success of female military pilots in the United States over the last three decades. Thus an increasing number of other countries are moving in that direction. 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.
All the nations considering female fighter pilots, 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 expected 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 all 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.
Allowing women to be combat pilots eventually leads to women commanding combat units. Last year, a U.S. Navy F-18 pilot, Commander 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, where her dozen F-18Cs flew about 412 hours each. The squadron has 245 officers and sailors, including pilots and maintenance personnel. The squadron commander flies combat missions, in addition to running the squadron. Joyner has been in the navy since 1985, when she entered the Naval Academy. She was a flight instructor in 1993, when the Department of Defense changed its policy and allowed women to fly combat missions. Joyner has 3,000 hours in the F-18, and 600 carrier landings. Once women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, it was only a matter of time before some of them rose to command positions. Her husband is also a naval aviator, and she has a four year old daughter. Her next assignment is a staff job in the Pentagon. As more women become combat pilots, more will command combat units, and larger ones at that.