LONDON (AFP) - The British military will lift the ban on women serving in combat roles later this year, the defence ministry said on Friday (July 8) in what Prime Minister David Cameron hailed as a "major step".
The announcement follows a review into whether women are physically strong enough to serve with the infantry, and whether their presence poses a risk to the cohesion of military units.
The decision, which will gradually be implemented over the next three years, comes after the United States dropped its official ban on women in combat in January.
"The Chief of General Staff has recommended that we lift the ban on women in ground close combat, a view that has been supported by the other service chiefs," Cameron said in the statement.
"I agree with his advice and have accepted his recommendation. I have asked that this is implemented as soon as possible."
From November, women will be able to join the Royal Armoured Corps, operating tanks and other vehicles.
The Ministry of Defence is expecting a spike in applications.
By the end of 2018, the infantry, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force (RAF) Regiment - a specialist airfield defence corps - will all be open to women.
"It is vital that our armed forces are world class and reflect the society we live in. Lifting this ban is a major step," Cameron said, in an announcement made as he attended a Nato summit in Warsaw.
"It will ensure the armed forces can make the most of all their talent and increase opportunities for women to serve in the full range of roles."
Women currently account for about 10 per cent of British military personnel.
General Nick Carter, the head of the British army, said he was "delighted" at the lifting of the ban.
"Women already operate on the frontline in a variety of roles and have done so with distinction in recent conflicts," he said.