THE British Army has paid for a handful of female soldiers to have breast enlargements to make them happier, the Ministry of Defence said on Thursday.
A spokesman said that four women had received breast-enhancing surgery at one military hospital since the start of last year, and the total number is likely to be higher.
"We would suggest that there are something like a dozen such cases a year," the ministry spokesman said.
In one case, a 27-year-old corporal underwent the stg£2,500 operation, courtesy of the armed forces, to make her "a happier soldier".
The spokesman defended the policy, saying that surgery would only be paid for if there was an overriding physical or psychological reason to do so.
"This is not done purely on cosmetic grounds, but as a last resort," he said.
"A small number of soldiers may develop a recurring and chronic psychological problem which may be debilitating."
The revelation is likely to renew debate in Britain on the role of women in the armed forces. They currently account for around 16,000 of the 200,000-strong army, navy and air force.
The British government is awaiting a review on whether women soldiers should be allowed to fight in the front line.
* Women who have had silicone breast implants do not face an increased risk for most cancers, according to a National Cancer Institute study of 13,500 American women who had implant surgery.
"The findings are generally reassuring," said Dr Louise Brinton, lead author of the study.