WASHINGTON • The US Navy is on track to open up its famed Seal fighting units to women, if they can pass the notoriously gruelling training course which lasts six months.
The move comes as the military announced that two American women will, tomorrow, become the first female soldiers to graduate from the elite Ranger School in Georgia, the army's premier leadership course and one of the most challenging and exhausting training programmes in the military.
In the latest sign of a movement to widen access to roles long forbidden to women across all branches of the US military, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said "there is no reason" that women who measure up should be barred.
"So, we are on track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards... can become a Seal'," he told the military-focused Defense News in an interview published this week.
He did not give a timeline, but the admiral's position is in line with that of Rear-Admiral Brian Losey, the head of the Naval Warfare Special Command, who led a review recommending that women be admitted.
In 2013, the Pentagon announced it would lift its ban on women serving in combat roles and gave the military services until the end of this year to argue whether certain jobs should remain off-limits.
This is the first year women have been allowed to attend Ranger School in Fort Benning.
The two who graduate tomorrow - the army has not identified them, but both are young officers who attended West Point - made it through a nine-week course of intense physical conditioning and 20-hour days that began at Fort Benning and then moved to the mountains of Georgia and to the swampy Florida Panhandle.
The trainees hiked roughly the distance from New York City to Boston (about 350km) with heavy packs, reported the New York Times. About 4,000 officers and other ranks start Ranger school every year, but only two out of five graduate.
Officials said they did not change the standards in any way.
Seals have carried out some of America's most dangerous and storied raids, including the May 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader, in Pakistan.
Aspiring Seals must undergo the so-called Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal training - known as BUD/S. The six-month course includes eight weeks of basic conditioning, peaking with "Hell Week", during which two-thirds or more of would-be Seals quit.
"Sheer fatigue and sleep deprivation will cause every candidate to question his core values, motivations, limits and everything he's made of and stands for," according to the NavySeals.com website.
Seal is an acronym for Sea, Air, Land teams, reflecting the special force's capabilities.