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Navy to let women serve on submarines
Navy's integration plan could have first female officers on board by 2011
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The Navy is preparing to notify Congress of a change that would put women on some submarines for the first time — but not initially on the attack submarines that are based at Pearl Harbor.
The first female accessions into the submarine force could come as early as 2010, the Navy said. They would begin training for submarine duty, consisting of nuclear power school, prototype training and the submarine officer basic course.
Upon completion of the coursework, the first female officers could report to submarines in 2011.
"This is something (Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead) and I have been working on since I came into office," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a directive issued on the change. "We are moving out aggressively on this. I believe women should have every opportunity to serve at sea, and that includes aboard submarines."
The sea service said it envisions initially assigning female officers to larger ballistic missile and guided missile submarines because they have more available space for officer accommodations, would require less modification and would allow the Navy to move more quickly.
"Our efforts there will inform our way ahead with respect to attack submarines," the Navy said.
Lt. Cmdr. John Daniels, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, today said at some point, women will be on attack submarines as well.
Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines are 560 feet long and have a crew of 15 officers and 140 enlisted. Eight of the nation's "boomers" are based in Bangor, Wash., and six are in Kings Bay, Ga.
The Navy also has four guided missile submarines — Ohio-class subs whose nuclear warheads have been replaced with the capability to carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 66 special operations forces. The converted subs are split between Washington state and Georgia.
While the Navy intends to integrate female officers initially, it's also planning to integrate female enlisted sailors into submarines as well.
Pearl Harbor has 16 Los Angeles-class attack submarines and a single new Virginia-class attack submarine, the USS Hawai'i — the largest number of submarines in the Pacific. Another Virginia-class submarine, the USS Texas, will soon arrive at Pearl Harbor.
"It's on its way," said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for the U.S Pacific Fleet submarine force based at Pearl Harbor.
The 6,900-ton Los Angeles-class subs are 360 feet long and have a crew of about 143. Virginia-class submarines are slightly longer at 377 feet, displace 7,800 tons, and have a crew of 134.
Benham today referred questions about the assignment of women to submarines to the chief of naval information at the Pentagon.
Exclusions to women serving on surface combat ships and aircraft were lifted in the early 1990s, but the ban on sub service remained.
Close-quarters living conditions and the need to share limited bathrooms and other facilities for long periods at sea in a mixed gender environment raised concerns.
Roughead, the chief of naval operations, said mixed accommodations on submarines "are a factor, but not insurmountable."
The Navy's Daniels said there is one officers' "head," or bathroom, on the big ballistic missile and guided missile submarines.
"So there would be a sharing requirement of that," he said. "It would probably amount to a sign on the door saying 'occupied by male officers,' or 'occupied by female officers,' and there would be essentially a time-sharing agreement on making that work."
There should be no modification cost early on with the program because women would be assigned their own stateroom, Daniels said.
As the program is expanded, "it may take some modifications to ensure privacy," Daniels said, but he didn't have a cost estimate for making those changes.
He also said women would be assigned to submarines on a staggered schedule so they all don't rotate off a sub at the same time.
Some spouses also have concerns about a mixed crew in tight confines.
"They have their concerns, and they are entitled to what they believe, but I think a lot of those same concerns were voiced early on with integrating women in the surface fleet, which we've been doing now for 16-plus years," Daniels said. "I think what we've seen with that is things are working great. Women have integrated very well into the surface fleet."
Said Roughead: "Having commanded a mixed gender surface combatant, I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force ... This has had and will continue to have my personal attention as we work toward increasing the diversity of our Navy afloat and ashore."