FEMALE soldiers could finally be allowed to serve in front line combat roles, the UK Defence Secretary has said.
Philip Hammond announced that he had brought forward a review of whether women should be able to join the infantry and the Armoured Corps from 2018 to later this year.
At present, women can serve on the front line, but not where the primary aim is to “close with and kill the enemy”.
Last week, three women made history by becoming the first female submariners to serve in the Royal Navy.
For years, females were unable to serve on submarines because of possible health risks but in December 2011, after a review which found that only pregnant women should not serve, Mr Hammond lifted the ban.
Mr Hammond yesterday said he wanted to “send a message” that the armed forces were fully open to women. “At a time when the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians, even the French – the Israelis of course for years – have women in their combat arms, this is something we have to look at again,” he said.
“Not because there are thousands of women desperate to join the combat arms, but because of the message that the army is not fully open to women who can meet the fitness and other requirements – the message that sends to women who might be looking to join other parts of our military.”
But he stressed there would be no compromise in rigorous fitness requirements, noting that engineers searching for explosive devices in Afghanistan had to carry loads of 63 kilos in combat zones.
Women – who were deployed in combat operations for the first time since 1945 during the Gulf war in 1991 – make up just under 10 per cent of the armed forces, but a slightly higher proportion of officer roles. The RAF employs the greatest proportion of female personnel.
Many women already serve in front line roles as medics, engineers, intelligence officers and fighter pilots.
The review will be led by the head of the army, General Sir Peter Wall, but will cover close combat roles across the armed forces, including the Royal Marines and the RAF Regiment.
Sir Peter said: “Our experience in Afghanistan has highlighted the increasingly important contribution women are making to operations.”
However, soldier turned Tory MP Richard Drax recently warned that women could be a “distraction” in front line combat.