Philip Hammond has used his first major speech as Defence Secretary to break a military taboo, overturning a ban on women serving on submarines. An 18-month review by the Royal Navy concluded that the reason hitherto given for their exclusion – that higher levels of carbon dioxide on board pose special health risks to women – was unfounded.
The armed forces, Mr Hammond stressed, should not be "slaves to tradition". In his address at the Royal United Services Institute, he said: "In that spirit I can announce that I have accepted the recommendation of the First Sea Lord that women should be allowed to serve in submarines. Female officers will serve on the Vanguard submarines from late in 2013, followed by ratings in 2015. Women, officers and ratings, will also be able to serve on the Astute class submarines from about 2016."
More than 70 per cent of all posts in Britain's Army and Navy, and around 95 per cent of posts in the RAF, are currently open to women.
Elsewhere in his speech, Mr Hammond stressed there was no going back on the cuts in the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review. "The situation we face now is that eliminating the black hole in the defence budget is the only way to sustain military capability over the long term," he said.