Women soldiers could soon be allowed to serve in the Army for the first time in front line close-combat fighting roles, the Defence Secretary has said.
Philip Hammond announced he was bringing forward a planned review on whether the bar on women joining the infantry and the Royal Armoured Corps should now be lifted.
The Defence Secretary said that he wanted to "send a message" that careers in the armed forces were fully open to women.
However, a former head of the Army, Lord Dannatt, warned that the task of close-quarter fighting was "a role that is not for women".
The current head of the Army, General Sir Peter Wall, who will lead the review, said that the key issue in determining the outcome would be the "delivery of operational effectiveness".
Speaking at a Westminster lunch for political journalists, Mr Hammond said recommendations would be delivered by the end of the year.
"The image of the military is still a macho image – the last bastion of male chauvinism," he said.
"The reality is very different.
"But in the Army we still don't allow women in the combat arms – in the infantry and in the Armoured Corps.
"I think that at a time when the Americans, the Australians, the Canadians, even the French – the Israelis of course for years – have women in their combat arms, this is something we have to look at again."