London, United Kingdom — The British government announced that women will be allowed to apply for all jobs in the military, including combat roles. The decision had been suggested by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron. In 2016, Cameron had announced that gradually all military occupational specialities would be open to both genders.
Female military personnel have been serving in supporting combat roles for decades. For example, in Afghanistan and Iraq women have served in the frontline as military working dog handlers, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team members, intelligence collectors, medics, or cultural support team members.
“Women have been involved in frontline activity in so many ways for so long. You’ve seen women serving alongside men in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have been part of the team. The idea that we’re excluding half the population for some of these vital roles potentially holds our armed forces back,” said Gavin Williamson, the current British Secretary of Defence.
Now, they will be given the option to serve as Royal Marines, Paras, infantrymen, and even as Special Air Service (SAS) and Special Boat Service (SBS) operators — that is if they manage to pass the gruelling selection courses of these units. But — and here is the crucial detail — the fitness standards will remain the same. Recently, the British army introduced its new combat fitness test, the assessment which all personnel who wish to serve in close-combat roles must pass.
The test, however, has the same standards for both genders. Either you meet them or not. The test has received support from serving women.
“If you can meet the necessary requirements, I don’t think anything should be off-limits, but you should have to meet the same requirements,” said Lance Corporal Kat Dixon, who serves as a tanker in the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.
Granted, women aren’t expected to flock to combat roles. But those who want to, and can, will have the chance to try. Supporters and opponents of the proposition often limit themselves to arguments about physical standards or the unwanted effects that might result.
But people don’t focus on the potential that could stem from this development: it’s reasonable to expect that only committed women would apply for combat roles. Thus, units will be receiving soldiers who wish to be there — selection regimes and fitness tests would then determine if they can be.
Women could be of great service to special operations units. A woman can often achieve a task than a man can’t — not all missions require physical strength or tactical prowess. For example, the 14 Intelligence Company, the predecessor of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) — a rough equivalent of JSOC’s Intelligence Support Activity (ISA) — used women in close target reconnaissance and combat missions in Northern Ireland against the IRA. And the SRR still does recruit women operators. Another example is Norway’s Jegertroppen. This SOF unit is tasked with Special Reconnaissance (SR) and recruits only women.
As Williamson said in the announcement speech, it’s all about evolving to meet future threats: “We constantly have to evolve and change… It’s vital that we give everyone in this country the opportunity to join our armed forces and play a full and proper role. We’ve seen in so many conflicts around the world the role women can play, and this is why we are opening it up.”