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‘Huge opportunity’: Sqdn Ldr Avani Chaturvedi on becoming IAF’s first woman pilot to participate in aerial wargame abroad

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NEW DELHI, Feb 5 (PTI): Weeks after scripting history by becoming the first woman fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to take part in an aerial wargame abroad, Squadron Leader Avani Chaturvedi says flying combat aircraft is exciting and the sky’s the limit for young people wanting to pursue a career in the force.

Chaturvedi, a Su-30MKI pilot, was part of the IAF contingent that participated in a 16-day mega air combat exercise with the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) at the Japanese airbase of Hyakuri from January 12 to 26.

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“It is always a good experience to participate in flying exercises, especially with a foreign air force. This is more so because this was the first time that I was involved in an international exercise. It was a huge opportunity for me and a wonderful learning experience,” Chaturvedi told PTI.

The exercise, “Veer Guardian-2023”, was the first such wargame between the IAF and the JASDF with a focus on air-combat manoeuvring, interception and air-defence missions.

“I would like to convey to all the young, aspiring girls and boys that the sky’s the limit for you. The IAF is a wonderful career option and flying fighter aircraft is really exciting,” Chaturvedi said.

“I would like to tell all IAF aspirants that you should set your eyes on the goal and go for it with dogged determination,” she said when asked how arduous was the path for her to become a fighter pilot.

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A B.Tech in computer science, Squadron Leader Chaturvedi was among the first three women fighter pilots commissioned into the IAF in June 2016. The other two were Bhawana Kanth and Mohana Singh.

“This exercise has given us a great opportunity to learn from each other. The endeavour is to understand each other’s working philosophies, planning processes or any good practice in general. It is a mutual learning exercise,” Chaturvedi said.

According to officials, women fighter pilots in the IAF had participated in air exercises within the country, but this was for the first time that one of them was part of a military drill abroad.

In February 2018, Chaturvedi, who hails from Madhya Pradesh, became the first Indian woman to fly a fighter aircraft solo when she flew a MiG-21 bison. She undertook the sortie from the IAF’s Jamnagar base.

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Chaturvedi, Kanth and Singh were commissioned into the IAF in 2016, less than a year after the government decided to open the fighter stream for women on an experimental basis.

The IAF currently has around 20 women fighter pilots.

Last year, the defence ministry said it had decided to convert the experimental scheme for the induction of women fighter pilots in the IAF into a permanent one.

In 2020, the Navy announced deploying its first batch of women pilots on the Dornier maritime aircraft.

In December, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said the Indian Navy is looking at opening all its branches for women from 2023.

In a significant move, the Army in 2019 began the process of inducting women into the military police.

The role of the military police includes policing cantonments and army establishments, preventing breach of rules and regulations by soldiers, maintaining movement of soldiers as well as logistics during peace and war and extending aid to civil police whenever required.

Last month, Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande said the Army has decided to commission women officers into the artillery regiments and a proposal on it has been sent to the government.

In the “Veer Guardian” exercise in Japan, India had deployed the Su-30MKI aircraft, one IL-78 flight refuelling aircraft and two C-17 Globemaster strategic airlift transport aircraft.

The JASDF participated in the exercise with its F-2 and F-15 aircraft.

During the exercise, the two air forces engaged in complex and comprehensive aerial manoeuvres in multiple simulated operational scenarios. The IAF and the JASDF engaged in air-combat manoeuvring, interception and air-defence missions, both in visual and beyond-visual range settings, officials said.

The aircrew of the two air forces also flew in each other’s fighter aircraft to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s operating philosophies.

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