Women could be allowed to serve in British Army infantry for the first time – but only after further tests have been carried out as to whether they can handle the physical demands of serving on the front line.
A government-commissioned review which began earlier this year has recommended close combat roles are opened to women, the Ministry of Defence has announced.
But it also calls for further research into physiological demands before a final decision is made on lifting the current exclusion.
Women are currently not allowed to join the ranks of the infantry and Armoured Corps but serve in a variety of combat roles across the forces, including fighter pilots, sailors and most recently, submariners.
Further research will evaluate the physical demands of fighting on the front line and how it may impact women's health, while training regimes to allow women to integrate will also be explored.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: "Roles in our Armed Forces should be determined by ability not gender. I hope that, following further work on our training regimes and equipment, we can open up combat roles to women in 2016. "This is a further sign of our commitment to maximising our talent in a year which has already seen the Royal Navy employ its first female submariners and two women climb to the highest-ever ranks in the RAF."
The MoD said the review had ended the view that women joining men in combat roles would have an "adverse effect on cohesion".
But the proposal has met with concern and criticism from some senior military figures.
Major General Patrick Cordingley, a former commander of the 7th Armoured Brigade, known as the "Desert Rats", said the move would be a "mistake".
He told the Daily Mail: "There is a political imperative. However, I think that it is a mistake from the armed forces.
"I can understand why politically it is a good thing to be seen to be doing - on the other hand, the practicalities of women in the infantry and armoured corps are considerable and should not be overlooked."
And Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander in Afghanistan, has previously said women lack the "killer instinct" necessary to fight in close combat.
He said: "Inclusion of women in the infantry is certain to result in a lowering of physical standards despite the inevitable denials that this will happen.
"This would damage the fighting capabilities of the armed forces. It would be harmful to the cohesion of the army because of the nature of the role."Reuse content