Women to Be Allowed on Front Line in British Army

Crown Copyright / UK Ministry of Defence
Crown Copyright / UK Ministry of Defence

Women could be taking part in front line combat roles as early as 2016, the Defence Secretary has announced today.

The Military currently ban women from ground combat units where the primary role is to close with and kill the enemy. Ground Close Combat includes “the requirement to deploy on foot over difficult terrain, carrying substantial weight, to engage in close quarter fighting, recuperate in the field and then do the same again repeatedly over an extended period.”

In a review paper carried out earlier this year by the Chief of the General Staff, it allayed fears that mixed close ground combat units would have an adverse effect on cohesion between troops.

However, it also calls for 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.

The Royal Navy currently has 10.1 per cent of female officers and 8.9 per cent other ranks. This rises to 11.7 per cent in the army who graduated from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and is even higher in the RAF where 16.6 per cent of officers are women and 13.1 per cent other ranks.

The units which are affected by the current exclusion are the Royal Marines General Service (RMGS); Royal Armoured Corps (RAC); the Infantry and the RAF Regiment.

The 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 two women climb to the highest-ever ranks in the RAF.”

Under European law, the MoD is obliged to review the basis for the exclusion from the Equality Act 2010 every eight years. It also provides that an employer will not be acting unlawfully if, in relation to ‘risks specifically affecting women’, the employer is required by Health and Safety legislation to operate in a certain way. Whilst this exemption probably allows for the preclusion of women from certain activities due to pregnancy, it is less clear whether this would apply to the exclusion of women from all Ground Close Combat roles.

In a statement released by the Ministry of Defence they said that GCC roles “place high physical demands on service personnel, and it is important that the impacts on women’s health are fully explored.”

The Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nicholas Carter said that “a huge amount of work and consideration” had gone into the review document.

“It is but one supporting element to my primary goal of ensuring that we maximize 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.”

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.