The outcome of a crunch meeting to discuss claims the Royal Air Force had unlawfully prioritised women and ethnic minority candidates over white men has been described as a "cover-up", a "whitewash" and "mealy-mouthed" by defence sources.
In a statement following the Air Force board on Wednesday, the head of the RAF announced an inquiry had been launched into the resignation of the officer in charge of recruitment over what he described as "a recruiting practice to improve the diversity of our workforce".
But Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston failed to explain if this "practice" had been deemed in violation of equality laws.
He merely claimed it had been "challenged and never implemented".
Sky News revealed last month, based on defence sources and a leaked email, that the Group Captain who headed RAF recruitment had handed in her notice over what she believed to be an "unlawful" order to allocate slots on training courses to female and ethnic minority recruits over white men to meet "impossible" diversity targets.
Responding to the air chief's latest comments, a defence source said: "This appears to be a cover-up and a whitewash.
"Who is being held to account over the issuing of the order in the first place? Surely the Group Captain Recruitment and Selection should not have been put in the position to have to challenge the order to protect her staff, candidates and the RAF."
A second source said: "What a mealy-mouthed way of admitting their guilt. It leaves several questions unanswered - why was the policy not implemented? (Because it was illegal and challenged)… They must have spent days coming up with this wishy washy tripe."
The Air Force board gained prominence after the allegations were reported by Sky News about the RAF's recruitment policies, which also included claims the service had "artificially inflated" its diversity numbers in a bid to hit government targets for female and ethnic minority recruits.
Defence sources claimed at the time that Air Chief Marshal Wigston appeared willing to compromise UK security at a time of growing threats from Russia and China in pursuit of albeit important goals such as improving diversity and inclusion.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who was invited to attend the board meeting in the wake of the furore, insisted there had been no dropping of standards because of recruitment practices and reiterated his support for his embattled air chief.
"The Chief of the Air Staff and I support the ambition of greater diversity in the RAF, but neither of us will risk national security to get there," he said.
"I have every confidence in the leadership of the RAF, who continue to deliver operations around the world to the highest standard, keeping the UK and our allies and partners safe."
Air Chief Marshal Wigston said: "Earlier this year we explored a recruiting practice to improve the diversity of our workforce - this policy was challenged and never implemented, but I regret that challenge led to our Head of Recruiting and Selection stepping down from her role.
"A non-statutory inquiry has been launched to understand the circumstances that led to her decision. This is in line with the wishes of the individual involved."