New Debate on Submarine Duty for Women
Women in the United States Navy command warships and pilot combat jets off aircraft carriers today, but there remains one part of the fleet where they cannot serve: aboard the nation's nuclear-powered submarines.
Now, as the Navy
has begun building a new class of submarines, an influential military
advisory committee has reignited the debate over the exclusion, recommending
that the Navy plan to revamp existing
we re-examine what is still closed to women,'' said Mary J. Wamsley,
the chairwoman of the group, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women
in the Services, the Pentagon's main body that recommends
has provoked a flurry of protests from those inside and outside the
Navy who believe that putting women side by side with men in the extraordinarily
tight confines of a submarine would
It has highlighted a significant rift between the Navy's civilian leadership, including Richard Danzig, the secretary of the Navy, and some of its senior officers.
In a speech to
the Naval Submarine League last summer, Mr. Danzig signaled support
for integrating the submarine fleet, but in the controversy over his
remarks he retreated. He warned in the speech that the
''The most Narcissus-like
thing about creating something in your own image, about being in love
with your own image,'' he said, ''is the continued and continuous existence
of this segment of the Navy as a
But here in Norfolk,
home port for the Navy's Atlantic Fleet and 12 of its 57 nuclear-powered
attack submarines, the ''white male preserve'' has been
''I only know one way, the way I was brought up,'' said Cmdr. James G. Foggo 3rd, the commanding officer of the attack submarine Oklahoma City. ''I've been doing this for 18 years, and it works well.''
Mr. Danzig's aides insist that he merely hoped to start a debate with his remarks last summer, not impose a change, but no sooner had he delivered the speech than the Navy's top admiral, Jay L. Johnson, flatly rejected the idea. ''For us, for me as chief of naval operations, I do not intend to change,'' he said.
have not publicly responded to the committee's recommendation, saying
they must first provide additional information the committee has requested.
The officials said the issue was not dead,
The advisory committee, however, said the issue could not wait, not only because of questions of sexual equality but also because of practicality.
extra pay, the Navy has had difficulty recruiting enough men to serve
aboard submarines, in part because of the more rigorous intellectual
and psychological standards they must meet. Permitting
The Navy has also
begun building the next generation of submarines, the Virginia class,
which, like today's submarines, will have berthing areas designed for
an all-male crew. Not including accommodations for women
currently in the fleet are expected to stay in service as long as 40
years, plans must be made now for gender-integrated crews,'' the committee
wrote in its recommendations. ''This would
Many of the arguments
on both sides are the same as those made when the Navy first allowed
women on support ships, in 1978, and on combat ships, in 1994. Since
then, women have joined crews even on ships once
The Navy prohibits
women from serving in 33,000 positions, about 25,000 of which are aboard
submarines. The other areas are in the Seals and jobs that directly
support Marine combat forces deployed aboard Navy
Other navies, including
those of Australia, Norway and Sweden, have removed gender barriers
on submarines, but United States Navy officials quickly point out that
those crews are not subjected to the arduous cruises of American submarines,
which can remain submerged for
''In addition to
personnel stress inherent in all combat vessels, submarine crews must
endure long periods of submerged operations, unrelenting crowding, lack
of privacy, infrequent communications with family
those concerns. ''It is ludicrous to say the living conditions and psychological
conditions have more of an impact on women than on men,'' said Ms. Wamsley,
the deputy chief of police in Commerce City,
But even proponents concede that submarines pose unique challenges for integration, all of which were evident aboard the Oklahoma City, whose crew was preparing to head to sea on Monday.
At 360 feet long,
tip to tip, the submarine seemed impossibly crowded, even without its
full crew. The Los Angeles class of submarines was built in the 1980's
for a crew of 108; with additions like Tomahawk cruise
so narrow that crew members have to turn sideways to pass one another,
chest to chest. The enlisted men share two bathrooms and sleep stacked
three deep in racks small enough to make turning over
When at sea, the
lowest-ranking crew members have to share bunks, sleeping in shifts.
To minimize that unpopular practice, the submarine has installed mattresses
in its torpedo room. Only the commander and
''The thing about
submarines is space is a commodity,'' Commander Foggo said, sitting
in the officers' ward room, which serves as dining hall, conference
room, chapel and, in case of medical emergencies, operating
Capt. Michael C.
Tracy, chief of staff for the Atlantic fleet, said the constraints complicated
the integration of women. Making submarines bigger would limit their
speed and maneuverability, he said. Squeezing in
Even the seemingly
simple alternative of putting women in the smaller of the submarine's
existing enlisted berthing areas would raise problems. A recent Navy
report noted that fewer women would share one bathroom,
Also, because of
submarines' design, crew members have to operate critical electronic,
hydraulic and air systems that pass through berthing areas, meaning
they would need access at all times to areas where women would sleep.
Even the commander's room has a valve for
Then there is cost. The Navy estimates it would cost $300,000 per bunk to integrate submarines because of wholesale design changes that would be needed. Converting aircraft carriers costs $4,000 per bunk.
Still, some in the Navy think a change is inevitable.
''If they want
to make it happen, it can happen,'' one senior Navy official said. Another
noted that Admiral Johnson's tenure as chief of naval operations would
end in June, and the Navy's civilian leaders could raise
Even in the fleet,
opposition is not universal. David R. Cross, a fireman aboard the Oklahoma
City, said that as a matter of equality it would be a good thing to
introduce women into submarines' fraternal world. As
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