TOKYO • Japan has welcomed its first female fighter pilot, with the Top Gun movie-inspired officer vowing to blaze a trail in the sky for other women.
First Lieutenant Misa Matsushima, 26, of the Japan Air Self Defence Force, finished her training to fly F-15s last Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the Defence Ministry. She was officially named a fighter pilot on Friday.
Women account for a mere 6.4 per cent of Japan's 228,000 troops. The Self Defence Force plans to increase the combined number of women serving in the air, sea and ground forces to 9 per cent of the total by 2030.
Lt Matsushima obtained her pilot's licence two years ago and has been assigned to the 5th air wing at Nyutabaru air base, in the southern prefecture of Miyazaki, The Guardian reported.
"Ever since I saw the movie Top Gun when I was in primary school, I have always admired fighter jet pilots," she told local media, referring to the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster about fighter pilots starring Tom Cruise.
"I wish to continue to work hard to fulfil my duty (not just for myself but) also for women who will follow this path in the future," she said.
Japan's air force decided in 1993 to open all positions to women, except for pilots of fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft. But that restriction was lifted in 2015, opening the way for Lt Matsushima to join the elite group of fighter pilots.
Three other women are now going through the training.
Lt Matsushima initially planned to fly transport planes but set her sights on becoming a fighter pilot as soon as the gender restrictions were lifted in late 2015 as part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's mission to create more work opportunities for women.
In March, Commander Ryoko Azuma became the first woman to command a warship squadron as Japan's navy seeks to turn to women to make up a shortfall in personnel caused by the nation's shrinking working-age population amid a drop in birth rates.
She now commands four ships with a combined crew of 1,000, of which only 30 are women.
Submarines, however, are still crewed only by men.