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Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has today announced his hope to open up ground close combat roles to women in 2016.
The Ministry of Defence has published a review paper, carried out earlier in the year by the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Nicholas Carter, into women in ground close combat roles.
The review, launched in May, has ended the long-held view that mixed close ground combat units would have an adverse effect on cohesion between troops.
However it also calls for further research into the physiological demands placed on those in close combat roles before a final decision is made on lifting the current exclusion on women.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said:
Roles in our armed forces should be determined by ability not gender.
I hope that, following further work on our training regimes and equipment, we can open up combat roles to women in 2016.
This is a further sign of our commitment to maximising our talent in a year which has already seen the Royal Navy employ its first female submariners and 2 women climb to the highest-ever ranks in the RAF.
Ground close combat roles place high physical demands on service personnel, and it is important that the impacts on women’s health are fully explored.
For women to undertake these roles without such research would be irresponsible and potentially place them at risk of personal injury.
The physiological research programme will investigate how training regimes can be constructed to allow women to integrate safely, whilst protecting combat effectiveness.
It will also deliver improved methods for conducting physical training that will have health benefits for the serving population of men and women.
Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Houghton, said:
I look forward to the prospect of opening ground close combat roles to women, but we have to look at this in a responsible way.
Our aim must be to maximise the use of talent without compromising our standards or undermining capability.
The final piece of work on physiological risks is vitally important in ensuring that ground close combat roles would not be detrimental to the health of our service women.
Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nicholas Carter, said:
A huge amount of work and consideration has gone into this review.
It is but one supporting element to my primary goal of ensuring that we maximise the talent available to the Army.
If the research recommends that women are physiologically suited to close combat roles then we will be able to make as many ranks and roles open to all our soldiers, within a flexible career structure.
My fellow Chiefs and I are determined on this point.
But this process has to be carefully managed with no final decision coming until further research is complete, because we have discovered from operations in Afghanistan that there could be significant physiological risk to women serving in ground close combat.
The research programme is expected to deliver an initial report in 2016 which will inform a decision on whether the exclusion can be safely lifted.