Women will not be allowed to fight in the front line alongside their male colleagues, Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, is due to announce in the next fortnight.
Mr Hoon's decision comes after a two-year study into the matter and runs counter to the wishes of many government ministers as well as Labour backbenchers. The issue has been highly contentious, with some senior officers maintaining that banning women from frontline duties could breach the Human Rights Act and the European Union's Charter of Human Rights.
However, a Ministry of Defence report, Combat Effectiveness Gender Study, is believed to have concluded that the vast majority of servicewomen would not be physically capable of taking part in close combat roles, with less than 2 per cent as fit as the average serviceman.
The study also found that female soldiers are eight times more prone to injury than their male counterparts, and that this could lead to costly compensation claims. Already the Ministry of Defence is facing more than 20 claims by women hurt in "non-sexist" basic training regimes, which were introduced four years ago.
Mr Hoon's decision will mean that women will not be able to join frontline units such as the SAS, the SBS, the Parachute Regiment, the Marines and the armoured regiments. However, they will still be able to serve in war zones, as long their duties do not bring them into direct engagement with the enemy.
The report, compiled for all three services, followed a series of tests described as "exhaustive". To qualify for combat fitness, soldiers under 30 had to carry 20kg of kit and their rifles while running a mile and half in 15 minutes. They were also required to carry another soldier for 50 yards. None of the female soldiers could fulfill this task, according to the report.Reuse content