Women can now apply to join special forces units including the Special Air Service (SAS), after all roles in the armed forces were opened up to female recruits.Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced yesterday that all roles in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, including frontline infantry units, are now open to female recruits as he paid tribute to “the phenomenal” women already serving in the military.Confirming that female soldiers are now eligible to serve in elite special forces units, he said that for the first time the “armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender”.Speaking during a firepower demonstration on Salisbury Plain, which saw elements of the British Army 3rd Division deploy Challenger 2 tanks as Apache helicopters and Tornado jets flew overhead, Mr Williamson said that women already serving in the army will now able to transfer into infantry roles if they wish, while new female recruits will be able to apply for infantry roles in December of this year.Mr Williamson told the Daily Telegraph that “every single role in our armed forces will be open to women” and said that he and senior officers expected to see women applying for roles with the SAS and other special forces units. Defence analysts have broadly welcomed the move, saying that the traditional understanding of the ‘frontline’ has become outdated and point to the fact that female helicopter pilots, intelligence specialists, medics, drivers and linguists operating alongside male infantrymen throughout Britain’s recent campaigns.However, retired officer Colonel Richard Kemp said the new policy would “cost lives” as it would “lead to divisiveness” and undermine teamwork.Lance Corporal Kat Dixon, 28, who became the first female gunner of a main battle tank after that role became open to women last year, said: “Female soldiers are already here, and my gender hasn’t posed a challenge because if you meet the requirements there isn’t a role that is off limits.”Lance Corporal Dixon, who serves with Royal Wessex Yeomanry and is one of about 35 women to have served with or joined armoured forces since the rule change in 2016, added: “The brilliance of the army that is if you pass the fitness and other tests you are part of the team”.Asked for her response to those critical of women in the military are said: “I wouldn’t say anything to them, I’d just prove them wrong.” He sad, said: “Women have led the way with exemplary service in the armed forces for over 100 years, working in a variety of specialist and vital roles. “So I am delighted that from today, for the first time in its history, our armed forces will be determined by ability alone and not gender.“Opening all combat roles to women will not only make the armed forces a more modern employer but will ensure we recruit the right person for the right role.”A ban on female soldiers serving in close combat units, including the Royal Armoured Corps, was lifted in 2016, but women were not allowed to serve in frontline infantry units where they would be expected to “close and kill the enemy”.Now though, female soldiers will be able to serve in frontline infantry units, and an army source told the Daily Telegraph that senior officers expected female soldiers to be serving with the SAS and other elite formations within 12 months, while new female infantry recruits would be eligible to take the arduous SAS selection after three years of service.All female soldiers will have the pass the same gender-neutral physical fitness tests as male recruits. The test, which was updated earlier this year for the first time in 20 years, demands a high level of stamina, muscular endurance and strength, officers said yesterday.The move to open infantry roles to women comes after MoD research recommended ways to limit the risk to women of musculoskeletal injury and psychological and reproductive health issues. Women and men now have full parity in the armed forces, defence secretary announces Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.