Air Chief Marshal Sir David Cousins, the head of the RAF's Personnel and Training Command, said that he believed that admitting gay men and lesbians "could work".
The Ministry of Defence made clear, however, that Sir David was expressing a "personal view" and that the Government's position had not changed.
Sir David, who is a member of the Air Force Board, which is responsible for advising ministers, said that he would not object if the Government moved to lift the ban. "Personally, if the Government decided to open the services to homosexuals, and we did not adopt the Americans' `don't ask, don't tell' policy, I would support it," he said. "If the Government decided on a fully open policy with strict rules like those which govern other sexual behaviour in the forces, then I think we could make it work. I have talked to my opposite numbers at five other air forces where homosexuality is allowed and in their view, there is not a problem."
His comments, made in a local newspaper following a RAF equal opportunities conference, are likely to antagonise other senior service personnel, many of who remain resolutely opposed to lifting the ban.
It is thought likely that MPs will be given a free vote on removing the current restriction when Parliament debates the next Armed Forces Bill in 2000.
A MoD spokesman said: "Our line remains the same ... We continue to ban homosexuals from the military. In the course of this Government, that position will be reviewed."Reuse content