Women make up around 10% of the British military and are now one step closer to being able to fight on the front line
Women make up around 10% of the British military and are now one step closer to being able to fight on the front line Reuters

The UK Ministry of Defence has ruled that female soldiers are to be allowed to fight in conflicts on the front line for the first time.

The historic changes comes after a government review suggested that women would be able to cope with the demands of combat units.

Female soldiers will now be able to join armoured regiments, infantry battalions and the Royal Marines as long as they meet military standards.

Restrictions on women fighting in frontline combat roles have already been lifted by a number of the UK's allies, including the US, Canada and Australia.

However in the UK, women are currently banned from ground combat units "where the primary role is to close with and kill the enemy".

A senior Whitehall source told The Telegraph: "This is an important decision and we want to get it right. The review has so far not been conclusive and more research is needed. But overall the MoD is leaning towards making the change."

Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, suggested that allowing women to fight on the front line could undermine the close-knit cohesion between male soldiers.

"A combat unit's job is to close with and kill the enemy, often in hand-to-hand combat with bayonets and grenades," he said.

"To get people to do that, to get out of a trench and attack a machine gun requires a certain comradeship and cohesion. I believe that is at its greatest when it's between a band of brothers – that is between men."

Joanne Mackowski from the Royal United Services Institute welcomed the change, but said women had already been serving in combat in Afghanistan where there was no defined frontline.

"In one way it would be an enormous change," she said. "But on the other hand, while we have never had women officially in combat roles, women have been on the frontline in Afghanistan for more than a decade.

"Women in specialist roles such as medics and intelligence officers have served with frontline units throughout."

Women form around 10% of the British military, and are already permitted to fly fighter jets and helicopter gunships, and to serve in submarines.

Eight women have been killed in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts – 2% of the total number of fatalities.