Britain has announced that women can now apply to join the ranks of the Special Air Service and Special Boat Service, their top-tier special operations units, as part of a phased opening of close-combat jobs to women that has been underway since 2016.
A British 22nd Special Air Service member speaks with an F-18D during a simulated Hellfire missile launch during training in 2001.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Rick Bloom)
This will bring the British military in line with other military forces around the world, including the U.S., where more jobs have been opened to women over the past few years.
But, as with other top-tier military units in the west, it’s unclear when the first female candidate will complete training. In the U.S., only a handful of women have made it through Ranger School, and none have been accepted into the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and similar units.
Currently, the British forces have had about three dozen women accepted into armored roles. Now, they can apply to join the Royal Marines and infantry, which opens the door to the SAS and SBS in the future.Today I attended a land power demonstration on Salisbury Plain, which involved some of the first women to join the Royal Armoured Corps. I am very proud of the work our military does and opening all combat roles to women will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role.pic.twitter.com/pguaeViRcR
There was a short-lived experiment around the turn of the millennium to see how some of the female support staff for the SAS would fare in actual training, but they appear to have ended it without any persons completing all the events — but it’s worth noting that the experiments were never designed to actually recruit female persons into the SAS, only to see how they would perform in some of the events.
Now, however, the goal is to get women into the training funnel and into the combat forces.
Members of the British Special Air Service in the African desert in World War II.
(British Army Film Photographic Unit Capt. Keating)
The British SBS was founded in 1940 and the SAS in 1941. Both were created to lead elite commando raids against targets in World War II, primarily German forces but the occasional attack on Italian forces did take place.
In one now-famous series of attacks, the SAS mounted up to 10 large machine guns per Jeep and then drove a column of jeeps in lightning raids against German airfields, destroying dozens of aircraft per raid and tipping the air balance over Africa back in favor of the Allies.
The SBS, meanwhile, launched a daring but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to kidnap Rommel from his desert headquarters.
Both services saw personnel cuts after the war but were eventually re-built over the decades after the war to face new threats. Both services have seen extensive service in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the British government rarely comments on their activities.
They often work with top-tier U.S. units like Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, but the details of these engagements are rarely released into the public sphere.