RAF opens up every role to men and women

The Royal Air Force’s (RAF) close combat unit has opened to women for the first time, meaning it has become the first branch of the British military to open up every role to men and women.

The move follows a decision last year to lift the ban on women serving in close combat roles.

The RAF will soon be accepting applications from women to join the RAF Regiment, its ground-fighting force.

The main role of the 2,000-strong RAF Regiment is to patrol and protect RAF bases and airfields.

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale says with women making up just 10 per cent of the air force as a whole, there is unlikely to be a flood of applications, but it is a significant moment because it means women can now apply for any RAF role.

The RAF’s women will not be the first allowed to serve in close combat roles, as some joined the Royal Armoured Corps recently.

But it will be another year before women can apply to enter army infantry units and the Royal Marines, where the physical demands can be tougher.

In July, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced the RAF Regiment would be open to women from September, ahead of the original 2018 schedule.

He said: “A diverse force is a more operationally effective force.

"Individuals who are capable of meeting the standards for the regiment will be given the opportunity to serve, regardless of their gender.

"This is a defining moment for the RAF.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, former head of British Forces in Afghanistan, however, told BBC Breakfast he ‘vehemently disagrees’ that women should be serving in close combat roles.

He said: “Once you have got through selection, you are subjecting yourself to a minimum of four years of intensive physical training, day in and day out, in barracks and out of barracks, which puts enough of a strain on a man's body.

“I think the reality is we will find many more women than men suffer injuries and we will then undoubtedly see very significant compensation payments being made out of the defence budget.

"And the nature of woman's bodies means that some of the injuries are going to be more significant in terms of being able to bear children and the like.

"I am not a doctor, but I have certainly read up on this and that is a problem.”

Judith Webb, a former major in the British Army, disagreed with Kemp. She told the programme: “My concern has always been to ensure that research is carried out so that women know exactly what they are in line for.

"Being aware of our physical differences is an important aspect, but that is where I feel research has now been carried out.

"We want to promote diversity and get the best people, and if we have got women who want to do it, who are capable of doing it - then of course they should be able to do it."

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