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Navy salutes first woman clearance diver

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National security correspondent

View more articles from David Wroe

Ray Griggs.

Ray Griggs. Photo: Supplied

The navy is poised to break new ground with its first woman clearance diver in training and could have a female service chief by the end of the decade.

As the military seeks to soften its male-dominated image, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs said during the first Gender in Defence conference on Tuesday that the navy's diving school had been ''incredibly proactive'' in receiving the female sailor.

''This young lady is on the mine warfare course at the moment, which is a lead-in to the diving course, and using that period to really help her from a fitness perspective because it's an incredible, intense physical course,'' he said.

Admiral Griggs' remarks came as defence chiefs and senior commanders met in Canberra to discuss how to boost the number of women in the services and make a military career more attractive to women.

Women make up about 14 per cent of full-time defence staff. The navy has the highest proportion of women, with more than 18 per cent, while the army is the lowest with 10 per cent. Women make up about 17 per cent of full-time staff in the air force.

Admiral Griggs said military scientists had studied the physical requirements for clearance diving and calculated what standard a woman would have to reach to play an effective role in a diving team.

The trailblazing woman is an able seaman in her mid-20s. She will still need to pass the rigorous nine-month course.

''I know this young lady. She knows the other male members of the course very well … They have sat down and talked in a really mature way how they're going to approach this,'' Admiral Griggs said. ''[These are] things we would never have seen five or six years ago.''

Chief of the Defence Force David Hurley told the conference the ''next big ticket item'' would be a female chief of navy, which traditionally has more women with experience in combat roles than the army or air force.

Admiral Griggs said ''around the 2020 time frame is possible'' for a woman to reach the role.

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