Women worldwide are being courted in increasing numbers by militaries seeking to boost their active combat forces. For the first time since the dark days of the Second World War, a cadre of 15 females is set to join the Russian Air Force’s combat training school in October. And in the month prior the UK’s RAF Regiment – a force of on-the-ground specialist soldiers trained to secure landing zones behind enemy lines, take out enemy air defences and guard air bases – will open its doors to women for the first time.
The UK lifted its formal ban on women serving in close-combat roles in July 2016, bringing it into line with the rest of Nato. However, several units and formations, including the raf Regiment, undertook risk-assessment activity before accepting women and some roles have been subject to ongoing reviews.
Women are also making in-roads in the most macho formations: in January this year, a woman became the first to complete the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 2 of the 75th Ranger Regiment, following a US Special Operations Command decision to open up 15,500 combat roles to women in January 2016. The 75th Rangers are tasked with clandestine operations, infiltration and “direct action” missions around the world, including, in March this year, deploying to fight in the maelstrom of Syria.
“Necessity is the key driver,” says Hannah Bryce, a specialist at Chatham House in the role of women in military forces. “Recruitment is an ongoing battle for the armed forces and by discouraging 50 per cent of the population from applying to join, [they’ve been] denying themselves access to a great deal of talent.”
Operations in Afghanistan showed that drawing women into the order of battle can reap tactical rewards. Bryce says that the presence of female soldiers “enabled the military to engage more effectively with local women, which would otherwise not have been possible due to cultural sensitivities”.
It’s also true that greater diversity helps in urban operations, where male special-forces operatives may stand out more clearly as soldiers on reconnaissance tasks. This added advantage was a key reason for the introduction of women to Norway’s Jegertroppen special-forces group.
Bryce adds: “Increased diversity within the armed forces could bring a level of nuance to analysis and understanding of contemporary conflicts. It will give an operational advantage when planning and implementing combat strategy.”
USA — Warfare
The US Air Force Space Command has developed a formal concept of operations (Conops) to fight war outside Earth’s atmosphere, Commander General John Raymond told a Space and Missile Defense conference in Huntsville, Alabama. The US has long abstained from attempts to legally ban the militarisation of space through the UN, though it is signatory to the Outer Space Treaty prohibiting basing WMD there. Details of the new Conops are secretive but are a clear sign that the US is preparing to fight where nobody can hear you scream.
USA — Aircraft
There are few more potent signifiers of the prestige of the American presidency than Air Force One – technically the call sign of any US Air Force craft carrying the commander in chief but colloquially either of the two Boeing vc-25s presently performing the role. One of Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration tweets harrumphed: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4bn. Cancel order!” So with an eye to cutting costs, the usaf is now considering buying and modifying two Boeing 747-8s commissioned by defunct St Petersburg-based carrier Transaero, but never delivered.
If Trump is willing to be borne aloft by Russia-provided apparatus, it could represent a substantial saving. But it remains to be seen whether he is willing to risk furnishing his critics with a handy metaphor for his presidency.
China — Geopolitics
China is boosting its military ties with Tanzania. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (Plan) sent a flotilla consisting of a destroyer, a frigate and a supply-vessel to the east African country for a five-day trip in August. During the visit, a Tanzania Naval Command official told China’s state broadcaster that Plan would be helping to train a new marine company in Tanzania. The visit comes just a month after China opened its first overseas base in Djibouti, suggesting that the Asian nation is getting serious about increasing its presence and influence in east Africa.