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Army chief sets key issue for review on women's roles

General Sir Peter Wall, who will lead the armed forces review into whether to lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, has said the key issue in determining the outcome would be the "delivery of operational effectiveness".

Chief of the General Staff Sir Peter Wall has said the Army should "seriously consider" lifting its ban on women serving in combat roles. Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

The review into whether to lift the bar on women joining the infantry and the Royal Armoured Corps was brought forward by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

The Ministry of Defence had been required to review its existing policy on the deployment of women by 2018 under EU equality laws.

Watch: Dannatt says front line 'not the right place' for women

Dannatt: Front line violence 'not right place' for women

The former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, has told ITV News he believes female soldiers should not be allowed to serve in front line roles.

Gen Dannatt, who led the Army from 2006 to 2009, said combat situations in which units attack with "violence, bayonets and machine guns" are "not the right place" for women to be.

Read: Review begun into female soldiers' front line role

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Hammond: We must look at female soldiers' role again

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has said the armed forces must review the role female soldiers can play in combat situations to ensure women know the organisation is "fully open" to them.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said perceptions of the armed forces as the "last bastion of male chauvinism" are wrong. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive

Mr Hammond said the reality of the armed forces is "very different" from the "macho image" that he said many continue to apply to it.

But he said the restrictions on women in combat situations is "something we have to look at again", in part because of the "message" it sends to women "who might be looking to join other parts of the military".

Review begun into female soldiers filling combat roles

by - Political Correspondent

It is a move that the head of the army, General Sir Peter Wall, has already suggested might make the armed forces "look more normal" - and it seems Defence Secretary Philip Hammond now agrees.

He has ordered a review of whether women should be allowed into combat to start immediately, and wants a report on his desk by the end of the year.

Earlier he told journalists that if the US, Australia and even France had women in combat roles, it was time for Britain to look at the policy again.

Army chief Sir Peter Wall said women "need to see they have equal opportunities" throughout the armed forces. Credit: Chris Radburn/PA Archive

Currently, there are more than 16,000 women in the armed forces but about 30 per cent of roles are closed to them.

The Defence Secretary says he does not envisage the numbers who apply will be that large but suggests it is time to send a signal that the army is open "to all who can meet the standards required".

It is also true that if the change does go ahead next year, it will not harm the Government's attempts to appeal to women voters in the run up to the General Election.

Read: Women in combat should be 'seriously considered'

Royal Navy destroyer checks on Russian fleet in Channel

The Royal Navy has confirmed that it tracked a Russian aircraft carrier and a nuclear-powered battle cruiser that passed through the English Channel last night.

The seven-strong Russian naval task group was led by the Admiral Kuznetsov - the nation's largest warship.

Although the ships did not enter UK territorial waters, their movements were tracked by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Dragon - the duty fleet-ready escort vessel that was dispatched from Portsmouth to investigate.

HMS Dragon was sent to investigate the Russian fleet. Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire

The ships are believed to have been returning to the Baltic after manoeuvres in the Mediterranean.

It is not unusual for Russian warships to pass through the Channel - the same group went through in the opposite direction in December, when HMS Dragon was also sent to investigate.

A Royal Navy spokesman said: "We can confirm that HMS Dragon was activated as the fleet-ready escort vessel. She met the task group centred around the Admiral Kuznetsov."

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MoD hits back at top general's comments on Army cuts

The Ministry of Defence has hit back after one of Britain's most senior generals warned Government cuts will damage the Army in the long term.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said:

The UK maintains some of the very finest and best equipped armed forces, underpinned by the world's fourth largest defence budget.

With a restructured, more flexible and agile Army and with £160 billion planned on new equipment over the next decade we will ensure our armed forces retain their formidable range.

Hammond dismisses Army cuts criticism as 'nonsense'

The Defence Secretary has dismissed much of the criticism levelled against the Government on Army cuts as "nonsense".

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Philip Hammond said: "We still have the fourth largest defence budget in the world.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on The Andrew Marr Show.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond on The Andrew Marr Show. Credit: BBC/The Andrew Marr Show

"I was in the Pentagon just this week past, I heard my US counterpart talk about Britain as a credible, capable and reliable ally and that's what we intend to remain.

"Of course we've had to make savings, of course we've had to make some very tough decisions, ... but we're looking to the future not the past."

Mr Hammond's comments followed General Sir Richard Shirreff's comments that the restructuring of the Army is "one hell of a risk" that will weaken the armed forces around the world.

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