UK to Decide Whether To Allow Women in Combat Jobs Next Year

A Royal Army Reserves Cultural Specialist officer at one of the Afghan National Army (ANA) hospital wards at Camp Shorabak, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2014.

UK Ministry of Defence / Sergeant Dan Bardsley

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A Royal Army Reserves Cultural Specialist officer at one of the Afghan National Army (ANA) hospital wards at Camp Shorabak, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2014.

As the U.S. nears its own decisions, the British Army is considering allowing women into infantry and armor positions.

Great Britain, America’s closest ally, could recommend allowing women to serve in certain infantry and armor combat roles as soon as early 2016, a top U.K. official said. The decision will in any case be made next year, Penny Mordaunt, the British minister of state for the armed forces, said Thursday.

“If we’re going to remain keeping close combat roles, and other roles in our armed forces cut off to women, we need a very good evidence-based reason why we’re going to continue to do that,” Mordaunt said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington.

Mordaunt, who oversees military personnel and operational policy, is a trailblazer herself, becoming the first woman appointed armed forces minister in May.

The British Defence Ministry began reviewing whether to allow women in combat during the previous Parliament. “We’ve already gone through our first initial phase of research,” she said. “We’ve been looking at data that we hold on women in the armed forces, looking at things like the kind of injuries they are sustaining, how they cope in particular trades and particular roles.”

Officials have now turned their attention to making sure women can succeed in these combat roles.

“We want women to enjoy a full career,” Mordaunt said. “We want women to be in these trades long enough that they can hold command and so we really do need to have a good understanding of the particular challenges their physiology presents.”

Mordaunt said she has long been a critic of how the British military prepares its female troops. “We should have fitness regimes tailored to us,” she said.

Last year, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he wanted to end the ban of women in army combat roles.

“Women can fight just as effectively as men,” Fallon told the BBC last year. “I think army selection should be done on the basis of ability, from now on, and not on the basis of gender.”

Two women in the U.S. Army made history last month when they graduated from Ranger school. Mordaunt called U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, the two women who recently earned their Ranger tabs, an inspiration to woman in the armed forces and her personally.

The Pentagon is preparing to open many frontline combat positions to women next year.

And could women one day serve in the British Special Forces roles?

“We’re looking at infantry and armor, but who knows what the future will bring,” Mordaunt said.

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