The US Air Force (USAF) is set to conduct the physical evaluations required to explore opening the last six career fields currently closed to female soldiers.
Having already included women within 99% of its career fields when the Pentagon revoked the law prohibiting women in ground combat roles, the USAF will now begin study to open the last 1%, which amounts to a little more than 4,300 Special Operations positions.
The service has already conducted focus groups, assessments, and operational observations as part of the review and implementation plan directed by the former Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in June 2013.
US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said: "Ultimately, the initiative to eliminate any remaining gender-based assignment restrictions will improve our readiness and the air force’s ability to recruit and retain the most effective and qualified force."
Scheduled to take place at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, the testing will involve approximately 200 male and female volunteers, and will develop the final physical test components that best predict operational success for these specific career fields.
Military force management policy director brigadier general Brian Kelly said: "This effort marks the most stringent process yet by which we are developing occupationally specific physical standards, scientifically measured against operational requirements to match mission needs.
"All the services and United States Special Operations Command are working with various scientific and research agencies to review occupational standards to ensure they are specific and current, operationally relevant and are gender neutral."
USAF operations and readiness director brigadier general Giovanni Tuck said: "This validation will help ensure our air force remains ready and capable, as our battlefield airmen employs in combat."
The US Defence Secretary is expected to announce final decisions regarding integration of currently closed career fields/positions, as well as, any exceptions to policy in January 2016.
Meanwhile, the assignment of female soldiers into newly integrated positions and occupations will depend on each service’s natural timeline for recruitment, accession and training.
Image: An all female C-130 Hercules crew to have served a combat mission for USAF at a forward-deployed location in south-west Asia. Photo: courtesy of Master Sergeant Alfred A Gerloff Jr., United States Air Force .