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Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 13:27 GMT 14:27 UK
Combat trials for female soldiers
Prince Charles meets female Military Police officers in Kosovo's capital, Pristina
Women can serve in warzones but not on the front line
Women are to train for the army's front line alongside male soldiers as part of a drive to enhance equal opportunity within the military.

In a series of tests later this year women will team up with men to establish how they cope in potential combat roles.

Traditionally, the army has taken the view that women could not cope with the heavy physical demands of front line fighting, and that mixed gender armoured units were impractical.

A panel of experts will submit a report, A Study of Combat Effectiveness and Gender, to ministers next year.

According to The Observer newspaper, 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.

Combat capability

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

The 17,000 women in the army are excluded from 24% of its jobs, including positions in the Household Cavalry division, the Royal Armoured Corps and the infantry.

The trials will not necessarily result in a relaxation of the restrictions, but if the presence of women does not appear to have a negative impact on combat capability, the case for change would be strengthened.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "It is important to see as much as possible how we can improve equal opportunity."

Change challenged

Giving women combat roles would bring the UK into line with the armies of the US, Canada, Holland, Norway and Israel.

However Liberal Democrat defence spokesman Menzies Campbell voiced doubts about the prospect of women in combat roles.

"The last time British soldiers were involved in serious close combat was in the Falklands, when they cleared Argentinian soldiers out of trenches out of Mount Tumbledown using the bayonet," he said.

"It will be some time before British public opinion is ready to accept women in that type of role."

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28 May 00 | UK
Battle for equality
27 Oct 99 | UK
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