London, July 13 (IANS) Close combat roles in the Royal Air Force will be open to women from September, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced on Thursday.
Speaking at the annual RAF Air Power Conference in London, Fallon said: “A diverse force is more operationally effective force. So, I’m delighted that the RAF will be open to recruitment to women from September.
“Individuals who are capable of meeting the standards for the regiment will be given the opportunity to serve, regardless of their gender,” he said.
The RAF will become the first branch of the British Armed Forces to recruit women to all of its roles, the Daily Mail reported.
“This is a defining moment for the RAF as it becomes the first service to have every trade and branch open to both genders.”
Women who sign up to the close combat roles will be deployed protecting RAF bases, aircraft and equipment at home and abroad.
The RAF was due to open its recruitment to women by the end of next year, alongside the Infantry and Royal Marines, but they brought forward the plans.
The move comes after the first female Army recruit to graduate for combat duties joined the force in April.
British Prime Minister Theresa May attended the female recruit’s ceremony back in April, and told of her “incredible pride” at the officer, according to the report.
The woman, who was not named, joined the Royal Tank Regiment as an officer.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: “The RAF is committed to providing equal opportunity to all so it’s fantastic to be able to open recruitment to the RAF Regiment to women ahead of schedule.
“We want the best and most talented individuals to join the Air Force, regardless of their gender, race or background.”
In July last year, then-Prime Minister David Cameron announced the ban on women serving in “ground close” combat roles would be lifted following a recommendation from the Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nick Carter.
The Army and Navy are set to follow in the RAF’s footsteps and lift all gender bars to recruitment by the end of 2022.
However, the move sparked a backlash in some quarters.