Given the modern British military is mainly an excuse to employ lots of middle class people in the MoD and do a bit of PR, they may as well do this:
Women will be able to apply for any British military role for the first time, the defence secretary has said.
Gavin Williamson announced that all combat roles were now open to women, including serving in special forces units such as the SAS.
He said for the first time the “armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender”.
A ban on women serving in close combat units in the British military was lifted in 2016.
As of now, women already serving in the Army are able to apply for the Royal Marines and the infantry. That will open the door for them to join special forces units such as the SAS after the necessary training.
Mr Williamson told BBC News: “We very much expect women to be joining the SAS and the Special Boat Service.
“The value that they’ll bring, the impact they’ll make will be phenomenal and all the services are looking forward to welcoming them.”
Williamson sounds like a bright-eyed head-office spokesman informing staff of a merger which everyone on the factory floor knows will be a disaster and cost half of them their jobs. What value will women bring to the SAS, exactly? What tasks are the SBS struggling to execute with their traditional, all-male teams?
Now this blog is fortunate enough to have ex-seaman Jason Lynch as a commenter, who often weighs in on the topic of women in the military. In the past he has said that, in damage repair drills, women can prove their worth by doing tasks which require small, nimble people rather than big, strapping lads. He also said women have been involved in actual damage repair operations and performed adequately. I have no doubt this is true, and I am not against women serving in military units if they can add overall value.
However, I am certain that for women to serve in the SAS, SBS, or even the Royal Marines physical standards will have to be lowered to the point of worthlessness. We’ve seen how these things go: first they say standards will not be lowered, then there are complaints that no women are passing, then the instructors are told to cheat to allow women to pass, then the standards are abandoned altogether. I walk the Brecon Beacons along the SAS and SBS selection routes back in my early twenties when a few of my friends in the RMR were training for R-Troop (they passed). The difference was they were loaded down with monster bergens and I trotted along with a day-sack. I am also pretty good friends with this chap, who recreates SAS selection marches for civilians to test their mettle. The loads each man carries and the pace they move at is obscene: a common complaint among my friends was that 21 and 23 SAS only required 4km per hour, whereas R-Troop stuck with the regular SBS and 22 SAS pace of 5km per hour. Over the Brecon Beacons this is a blistering pace, and I knew blokes who practically ran the whole route. I was exhausted after a day’s hike with these guys, and I was carrying no weight and only did it for one day in good weather. I couldn’t even get my friend’s bergen on my back, and when someone helped me I found I couldn’t move. During selection, my friends were doing these hill routes day after day.
Unsurprisingly, some men picked up injuries, mostly knees and ankles but also backs. When my friends joined the regular forces and got a few years under their belt, a few of them tried out for regular Special Force selection (including the Royal Marines’ Mountain Leader’s course). The general advice was, if you fail the first one, you have to think very carefully about having another go because of the pounding your body takes. I know at least one guy who was talked out of going for SF selection because it would wreck his already suspect body, and he was a fit lad in his mid twenties.
The rest of the UK special forces selection process which follows “the hills” phase is also brutal: “officer’s week” and “the trees” (i.e. the jungle) are particularly appalling if my friends’ anecdotes are accurate. However, I don’t know whether these would present any great obstacle to women or not. What I am absolutely sure of is if women attempt the current SAS and SBS selection routes in the Elan Valley and Brecon Beacons they will pick up serious injuries at a rate which will later be considered criminally negligent. The course already extracts an awful toll on men at their peak fitness: about 10% pass the whole thing. I suspect the first time a woman attempts it she’ll fail so miserably the units will come under enormous pressure to get her through, which eventually they’ll succumb to.
The good news is once the last British jihadist in Syria is shot and we finally withdraw completely from Afghanistan, we’ll not be sending troops overseas any more, at least not for anything important we can’t leave to the Yanks. Give it another decade and our armed forces will be best known for mincing around a medical tent in a third-world disaster zone along with a bunch of Norwegians, Belgians, and Latvians in green clothes. That being so, why not let women serve in the SAS? After all, Williamson got one thing right:
the impact they’ll make will be phenomenal