Women tested for frontline soldiering

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The Independent Online

Women are to train for combat roles in the Army alongside male soldiers in a new drive to enhance equal opportunities within the military.

Women are to train for combat roles in the Army alongside male soldiers in a new drive to enhance equal opportunities within the military.

In a series of tests later this year, women will team up with men in trials to establish how they fare in the so-called "teeth" arms of the services - those expected to be directly engaged in fighting.

Traditionally, the Army has taken the view that women cannot cope with the physical demands of frontline fighting, and that mixed gender armoured units were impractical.

While the exact form of the trials has yet to be decided, they could test the viability of mixed-gender tank crews, all-women crews, mixed infantry units and all-women infantry units.

The field exercises will also examine how men react to the presence on the battlefield of women, and will compare how each sex copes with the mental and physical demands of combat.

There are about 17,000 women in the Army, and already only 24 per cent of jobs are reserved for men. Most of those are in the Household Cavalry division, the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry.

The trials won't necessarily result in a relaxation of the restrictions, but if the presence of women does not damage combat capability, the case for change would be strengthened. A report, A Study of Combat Effectiveness and Gender, will be given to ministers next year. A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "It is important to see as much as possible how we can improve equal opportunity."

Giving women military combat roles would bring Britain into line with the United States, Canada, Holland, Norway and Israel.

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