By the end of the year the Australian army will have its first female combat troops and the navy will have accepted its first woman into the very tough clearance diving unit.

All will have won their jobs by passing the physical checklist demanded of male colleagues.

The army will also accept its first women into combat roles.

By the end of the decade, the navy could have its first female chief, if plans to attract women into the Defence Force, admit them to combat and push them through the ranks succeed.


None will have an easy passage.

Physical requirements for female combat troops outlined this week promise a gruelling regime that takes no account of gender.

Standards would not vary because of age or sex, Defence Personnel Minister Warren Snowdon told a conference.

"Importantly, the standards provide a sound basis for assessing whether someone has the ability to safely and effectively perform in a role."

These will include power and endurance tests that will measure anaerobic and aerobic power, and muscular endurance and strength.

Side-by-side with male troops, women will need to finish forced marches of 5km in five minutes wearing 22.7kg of kit, and 10km in 110 minutes bearing 38.5kg.

Passing the tests will push women out of their present support roles and into combat positions.

Already, Defence Force chief General David Hurley said, the shape of Australia's military had changed.

"When I was a junior officer in the early 1970s, more than a few eyebrows were raised in the 1st Battalion when two female clerks were posted into the battalion headquarters," he said.

"Today women are deployed to all operational theatres and serve as commanding officers of major warships, air force squadrons and army units and they fill executive appointments across the Defence organisation."

Facing serious recruitment and retention problems, and struggling to overcome a series of sex-abuse scandals, the Defence Force wants to dramatically increase the number of women in its ranks.

At present only about 14 per cent are female, ranging from 10 per cent of the army to 17 per cent of the air force and 18 per cent of the navy.

With its greater percentage of women, a female navy chief was possible by 2020, Hurley said.

So far women have not been flooding the services with requests for combat postings.

But Hurley said a slow start had been expected and that gender equality was only the start of a much broader cultural shift towards increased diversity and inclusion.

"Defence is not starting from a zero base but the key to success in this endeavour will be to continue to engage with our female workforce to understand their needs and ensure that the men in our organisation are accepting and supporting as we move to address these needs."