LONDON Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on Thursday said he wanted to allow women to fight in the army alongside men on the front line, bringing British rules on female combatants into line with some other Western states.
Britain's army currently allows women to serve on the front line but not to be involved in units whose main function is to engage and kill opposing forces. The United States, Australia and Canada are among those who already have women in close combat roles.
"It's about the signal we send that all branches of the military are open, regardless of gender," Hammond told reporters. "The image of the military, I think, is still a macho image - the last bastion of male chauvinism. The reality is very different."
Hammond said it was important to stop gender defining who could carry out what roles in the army, and that he did not anticipate resistance among the military hierarchy to expanding the number of women in the army.
He announced that a review of the role of women in combat units would be carried out by the army's Chief of the General Staff, Peter Wall, and its findings were expected by the end of the year.
(Reporting by William James; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)