Recruits for Britain’s elite special forces will face a softer selection process due to new health and safety rules, in a move that has angered insiders as well as counterparts in the US.
The Special Air Service (SAS) is widely regarded as one of most fearsome military units in the world, but its admissions tests are now set to be weakened following the deaths of three reservists during a training exercise in 2013.
An investigation found that those in charge failed to take the relatively high temperature into account during the exercise in the Brecon Beacons mountain range in Wales, while a tracker system did not properly monitor the men.
From now on test marches will likely be halted if temperatures rise above 28C (82F), combined with high humidity. There are also likely to be more water stations along the training route in Wales and a practice session to allow recruits to familiarise themselves with the terrain.
However, American special forces, who often work closely with the SAS, have expressed their shock at the decision. One insider told The Times: “It’s all very well taking weather conditions into account in the training course, but what happens when they are deployed to Iraq in 50 degrees?”
Former SAS officers also fear the lighter regime will mean weaker men are recruited. “Once you start introducing health and safety then forget it,” said one. “The feeling around the camp fire is that this is going to change [selection] and make it softer and easier.”
One source also said the additional water stations would make training more like a civilian marathon race and remove the need to demonstrate “water discipline” – the ability to go long periods without water, a skill especially important in desert environments.
“The [Ministry of Defence] is after a no-risk environment, but that is a nonsense,” the officer said. “You are not joining the boy scouts.”