The move, expected to be announced Tuesday, follows revelations of a startling number of sexual assaults in the armed forces. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said this year that the sexual assaults might be linked to the longstanding ban on women serving in combat because the disparity between the roles of men and women creates separate classes of personnel - male "warriors" versus the rest of the force.
While the sexual-assault problem is more complicated than that, he said, the disparity has created a psychology that lends itself to disrespect for women.
Under the schedules military leaders delivered to Hagel, the Army will develop standards by July 2015 to allow women to train and potentially serve as Rangers, and qualified women could begin training as Navy SEALs by March 2016 if senior leaders agree. Military leaders have suggested bringing senior women from the officer and enlisted ranks into special forces units first to ensure that younger, lower-ranking women have a support system to help them get through the transition.
The Navy intends to open up its Riverine force and begin training women next month, with the goal of assigning women to the units by October. While not part of the special operations forces, the coastal Riverine squadrons do close combat and security operations in small boats. The Navy plans to have studies finished by July 2014 on allowing women to serve as SEALs, and has set October 2015 as the date when women could begin Navy boot camp with the intention of becoming SEALs eventually.
U.S. Special Operations Command is coordinating the matter of what commando jobs could be opened to women, what exceptions might be requested, and when the transition would take place.
The proposals leave the door open for continued exclusion of women from some jobs, if research and testing find that women could not be successful in sufficient numbers, but the services would have to defend such decisions to top Pentagon leaders.
Army officials plan to complete gender-neutral standards for the Ranger course by July 2015. Army Rangers are one of the service's special operations units, but many soldiers who go through Ranger training and wear the coveted tab on their shoulders never actually serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. To be considered a true Ranger, soldiers must serve in the regiment.