The ban on women soldiers serving on the front line has been lifted, the Prime Minister has announced.
Women will now be allowed to join the cavalry, infantry and armoured corps in what David Cameron said was a “major step”.
The move was recommended by head of the army, General Sir Nick Carter, who said women should be allowed to serve in ground close-combat roles. They had previously only been permitted to serve on the front line in support roles,
Announcing the move at a Nato summit in Warsaw yesterday, Mr Cameron said: “It is vital our armed forces are world-class and reflect the society we live in.
“Lifting this ban is a major step. It will ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent and increase opportunities for women to serve in the full range of roles.”
Britain now joins a handful of countries – including the US, Australia and Israel – which allow women to serve on the front line.
The Ministry of Defence has conducted reviews of whether women are physically strong enough to serve with the infantry on the front line and whether their presence would undermine the cohesion and morale of fighting units.
Concern over the issue had centred on whether women had the physical capability to withstand the demands on their body that some of the roles will require.
The move follows extensive research into the potential risk to women in terms of musculoskeletal injury, psychological issues and impaired reproductive health.
It will be followed by the introduction of a new set of “physical employment standards”, by the end of 2018, which will set clear physical standards for all combat roles.
Current army research suggests fewer than 5 per cent of its 7,000 women would pass the current infantry fitness test.
Proposals to open up roles to women has attracted criticism in the past. Former army chief Colonel Richard Kemp said introducing women into such roles would be a “foolish move” that would be “paid for in blood”.
Col Kemp, who led the British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, claimed only “a very small number” of women wanted to join the infantry, and only “a fraction” of those would have the physical capability to do so.
The MoD believes operating armoured vehicles is likely to attract the highest number of women recruits who could eventually account for up to one in five applicants to the Royal Armoured Corps.