Women could be allowed to fight on the frontline within the year as part of the biggest shakeup of the British military in its recent history. David Cameron has asked the Ministry of Defense to be ready to welcome women into close combat roles by the end of 2016. The long-mooted move would speed up the implementation of a review of the policy when it concludes before the summer.
The prime minister said: The defense secretary (Michael Fallon) and I are united in wanting to see all roles in our armed forces opened up to women in 2016. We’ve already lifted a number of barriers in our armed forces with the introduction of female submariners and women reaching the highest ranks in all services. We should finish the job next year and open up ground combat roles to women, he added.
A review paper was published in December 2014 and as a result, further research is under way looking at the physiological demands on those carrying out ground combat roles. The research program is expected to deliver an initial report in mid-2016. A decision to open up all roles to women would put the UK alongside other nations including Australia – which has legislated for this – and the US, which announced this month it would open all jobs in combat roles to women.
More than 80% of jobs across the armed forces are currently open to women, who make up more than 10% of the military’s manpower. Jobs on the frontline were opened to women two decades ago, notably in the artillery, engineers and combat medics. The new changes would predominantly apply to those roles in the infantry, Royal Marines, Royal Armoured Corps and the Royal Air Force Regiment.
Adm Alan West, who was first sea lord and then served as Labour security minister, said he retained, some nervousness about women in the infantry and the Royal Marines, where they have to actually advance on the enemy, climb into a trench and fight and kill each other. Not because there aren’t some women who can do that but in general terms, when you are looking at averages, women have one-third less upper body strength, Lord West told the Sky News Murnaghan programme.
The shadow defense secretary, Maria Eagle said: The government must do more to ensure that the armed forces better reflect the society they serve. This would mark a vital step towards achieving this goal and would bring us into line with many of the UK’s allies, many of whom have a more equal gender balance in their forces. With recruitment having stalled, ministers need to get on with delivering more flexible career options for those interested in joining the services.