Problems created by push for women and ethnic minorities come as crisis-hit Armed Forces also face sex harassment scandals.
The RAF has been accused of discriminating against 160 white men in its effort to meet “aspirational diversity targets”.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defence select committee, told MPs that the RAF’s former head of recruitment had identified the cases before she resigned in protest.
After the revelation, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston, head of the force, was asked if he had presided over a “lack of integrity at the top of the RAF”.
It comes as the Armed Forces struggle to retain female personnel amid a sex harassment crisis engulfing the military.
On Wednesday, defence sources suggested to The Telegraph that Sir Mike, who authored the 2019 Wigston review into inappropriate behaviour of troops, should be considering his position.
Mr Ellwood told MPs that Group Capt Elizabeth Nicholl, who quit in August last year, was placed in charge of recruiting more women and ethnic minorities into the service.
While working on the diversity scheme, which began in Nov 2020 and ran until March 2021, Mr Ellwood said Group Capt Nicholl had identified that “around 160 cases of positive discrimination had taken place”.
“She ended up having to resign not wishing to go through with this policy,” he added.
It is the first time the scale of the alleged problems caused by the RAF recruitment policy has been revealed.
Mr Ellwood spoke in exasperation as he told MPs that prioritising ethnic minority and female pilots over better qualified white pilots, in order to improve the force’s diversity profile, could “materially impact on the RAF’s operational performance”.
Giving evidence to MPs for the first time on the matter, Sir Mike said that while he made “no apologies for setting a challenging, aspirational goal for the Royal Air Force for diversity”, he admitted the objectives were “stretching aspirational levels of ambition”.
He said that once the “stretching target” had “trickled down into individual recruiting officers”, it became an “unattainable target, that put intolerable stress on them”.
However, he denied that any discrimination had taken place and insisted that standards had not slipped because of the diversity drive.
"I can absolutely assure this committee there was no compromise of entry standards, no impact of the standard of recruits from any background, from the front line or from operational effectiveness,” he said.
All three services have been tasked with improving their diversity, as they are predominantly made up of white men.
In response to the recent Women in the Armed Forces report, the Government pledged to ensure women comprise 30 per cent of the intake of the Armed Forces by 2030.
The RAF went further on this target, insisting that it wanted the number of female air force recruits to rise to 40 per cent by the end of the decade.
However, the Red Arrows recently faced allegations of a “toxic” culture. Two pilots from the aerobatic display team were dismissed after members of the squadron were investigated over allegations of misogyny, bullying and sexual harassment.
In October last year, the Royal Navy was forced to launch an investigation into allegations of rape threats and sexual assault on board Britain’s nuclear submarines.
Army chiefs were called on to confront predatory behaviour at Sandhurst as a result of an “epidemic” of rape culture across the military.
Despite the demands on the military to improve diversity, the Forces have also faced claims that female recruits are not equipped with properly fitting kit.
A report last year found that female soldiers were often subjected to “ill-fitting” kit across all three services, such as rucksacks that were too big, which can also increase the risk of injury.
Struggle to retain women in the military
Data show that the military has struggled to retain women amid the numerous scandals.
The UK Armed Forces biannual diversity statistics found more women left than joined last year.
According to the figures, 1,530 women left the Armed Forces in the year to Sept 2022, whilst 1,420 joined. That also compares with a figure of 1,940 women who joined the military in 2021.
Sir Mike was also forced to address allegations about the Red Arrows in front of MPs at the defence select committee on Wednesday.
He said: "I was appalled to hear reports of inappropriate behaviours on the Red Arrows and I would add a significant amount of frustration as well that this had happened on my watch.”
He insisted that as soon as the RAF saw “all of the warning signs, we immediately went into a non-statutory inquiry”. That led “ultimately to administrative action and dismissal of two pilots and the administrative action sanctioning of three other members of the squadron", he said.
"For me, it sends a very important signal to the rest of the service that there is no part of the service that is on such a pedestal, which is so privileged that we won't go and investigate allegations of this nature.”
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