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Combat tests 'watered down for women'

By Michael Sm ith, Defence Correspondent
12:00AM BST 26 Mar 2001

ARMY field trials designed to test the ability of women to serve in frontline combat units were so diluted that they amounted to little more than "aggressive camping", according to a senior officer who evaluated them. The exercises, a crucial part of the Army's "Combat Effectiveness Gender Study", have concluded that women are as capable as men of serving in combat units. However, Brig Seymour Monro, the Army's director of infantry, said this conclusion could only be reached because the tasks that women soldiers were not physically capable of performing had been made easier or dropped from the trials.

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A scathing commentary on the trials, written by Brig Monro, had been suppressed by senior officers, defence sources said. He declined to comment on the issue yesterday. He said: "We have been told to keep our thoughts to ourselves while the whole thing is under review. But we have made our views clear to those above us and I understand they will be reflected in the study." The field trials are the key part of the Army's assessment programme which will determine whether women should be allowed to serve in frontline infantry, armoured and special forces units - the only ones they cannot join at present.
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A final recommendation is expected in the summer with ministers making the decision by the autumn. The practical trials took place over nine months last year. They were required to be "gender neutral", with the women expected to do the same as the men. The exercises did not include any heavy weapons or tanks, although there was live firing. The lack of tanks is seen as having diminished the value of the tests. The medical evidence uncovered during the study found that in strenuous situations women's bodies had to work 25 per cent harder than men's to achieve the same effect. Initially, the field trials stalled on the same problem. Women were not capable of a number of tasks under battlefield conditions, such as digging themselves in to hard ground under fire. One defence source said: "The girls could not do it. So they decided to reduce the level of the tests for everybody, which kept it gender neutral but meant that of course the girls did OK." The Ministry of Defence admitted that heavy weapons and tanks were

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not used in the trials. "No attempt was made to replicate infantry battle conditions because, since women do not currently serve in the infantry, they are not trained as infantry. "The trials were designed to test physical ability, stamina and how women work together. They were not battlefield conditions and were never intended to be." Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, has insisted that no decision will be made that damages operational effectiveness. Adml Sir Michael Boyce, the new Chief of Defence Staff, has also said he is "absolutely inflexible on the need to maintain operational capability". Sir Michael said: "Notwithstanding every field trial you do, the question you cannot answer is how is this person going to be when a mortar lands beside them or the shells are flying?" There were also concerns that women might not be aggressive enough to close with the enemy for hand-to-hand combat. This aggression was not a "natural female trait", said Sir Michael. The claim that the field trials were "dumbed down" comes on the day that three female soldiers begin the All-Arms Commando course at Lympstone, Devon. If they pass, it will give them the right to serve in the special forces units that support the Royal Marine Commandos and to

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special forces units that support the Royal Marine Commandos and to wear the coveted green beret. Although they are not expected to succeed, there are concerns among some service officers that they may be pushed through the course in order to back up the calls for women to be allowed to fight on the front line.
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