The decision comes following an 18-month review conducted by the Royal Navy looking at the legal, operational, health, social, technical and financial issues of allowing women to serve on submarines.
Women had previously been excluded from submariner roles due to concerns about higher levels of carbon dioxide in a submarine atmosphere being a risk to female health. But recent research by the Institute of Naval Medicine showed that these risks were unfounded and that there were no medical reasons for excluding women from service on submarines.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
I am pleased that women will now have the same opportunity to serve on board our submarines, carrying out vital tasks maintaining Britain’s defences around the clock, across the world.
The Royal Navy has always been at the forefront of innovation, and this decision represents another step in its distinguished tradition of recognising the contribution of its people and making the very best use of the talent from which it can recruit.
The first female submariners are expected to take up their posts towards the end of 2013. Initially this will be a small number of female officers - volunteers who will begin training next year for service on the Vanguard Class of Trident submarines. The first female ratings will be recruited and trained from 2014.
Women will also be able to serve on Astute Class submarines from 2016 when the necessary modifications to on-board accommodation have been made.
The Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery, said:
Our primary objective in the Royal Navy is maintaining our operational effectiveness both now and in the future.
This carefully considered decision will allow the Submarine Service to draw on the widest range of talent and skills of our people - those in service and those yet to join. It will therefore enable us to further consolidate our operational success, and it will give our women the same opportunities as men to enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in the Submarine Service.
Currently, more than nine per cent of Royal Navy personnel are female, approximately 3,420. Women have been serving on board Royal Navy ships since 1990.