The head of recruitment in the Royal Air Force says she is "unashamed" of a policy that could see ethnic minorities and women prioritised for roles over white men.
In an article in The Times, Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford said she had "slowed" down the recruitment process for all candidates after figures showed the RAF was not meeting its targets on diversity.
She said women could be picked over men if they were under-represented in certain positions and were as capable.
A tweet from the Ministry of Defence said the RAF is "doing everything it can", alongside the other forces, to increase its "recruiting intake from under-represented groups".
AVM Byford, one of the most senior ranking women in the military, told The Times: "I want the best people. So I need the best people to join to achieve the best they can during their service career and we get... what we need from an operational capability perspective.
"And, if I can include more women and more people from different backgrounds in that, I think I have a better service in the long run."
She added: "We are unashamed about doing that because I think that's a good thing."
A debate has developed following reports of concerns relating to the fighting strength of the RAF being undermined by supposed "impossible" diversity targets, something the RAF has firmly denied.
This has reportedly led to a senior female RAF recruitment officer resigning amid the reported pressure to meet these targets.
The unnamed group captain reportedly voiced her frustration that white men were rejected in a bid to recruit more ethnic minorities and women.
In a statement on Twitter via the MOD, the RAF has said that "operational effectiveness is of paramount importance and no-one is lowering the standards to join the Royal Air Force.
"The RAF recruits for many professions and like the rest of the Armed Forces is determined to be a force that reflects the society it serves to protect," the tweet went on.
AVM Byford disregarded claims made about the possibility of the RAF's operational requirement being jeopardised, telling The Times: "I would never do anything that impacted on that. Our role is to protect and defend the nation."
The head of RAF recruitment said the air force had an "ambition" to have women making up 40% of new recruits by 2030 and ethnic minorities accounting for 20%.
In March last year, the RAF reported that they had met diversity recruitment targets.
Their Government-set targets then were an intake of 10% ethnic minorities and 15% women and it was the first time the RAF had reached this level of diversity in its recruitment.
AVM Byford said the RAF was "just shy" of meeting its targets for this year of 25% of women and 12% of ethnic minorities – currently at 20% and 7 to 8% respectively.
Because of this, she had then asked the Cranwell team to stop filling up training places before any discussions with the board could take place. The air vice marshal did reiterate that the board would "not necessarily" choose to prioritise women and minorities over white men.
The head of Britain's Armed Forces, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, has described the persistent under-representation of women in the services as woeful.
In December, during his first speech as CDS, he said the military was at "risk of looking ridiculous" unless it became more diverse and demonstrated better leadership.
The RAF has, however, set the most ambitious targets among the forces, looking to more than double its recruitment of women to hit by 2030, as well as to ensure ethnic minorities make up 20% of new recruits.