WASHINGTON: Navy officials today announced they are moving ahead with plans to integrate women onto submarines beginning in late 2011 or early 2012.
The decision became public after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates notified Congress in February of the Navy’s desire to add women to submarines. With a congressional review period complete, Navy officials say they will begin taking applications with a goal of training 19 women, starting in July.
“There are extremely capable women in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a press release. “Enabling them to serve in the submarine community is best for the submarine force and our Navy. We literally could not run the Navy without women today.”
Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of Naval Operations, seconded his enthusiasm for the change. “As a former commanding officer of a ship that had a mixed-gender crew, to me it would be foolish to not take the great talent, the great confidence and intellect of the young women who serve in our Navy today and bring that into the submarine force.”
Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, commander of Naval Submarine Forces, noted that about half of all science and engineering bachelor’s degrees today are awarded to women. “Maintaining the best submarine force in the world requires us to recruit from the largest possible talent pool.”
The Navy’s plan for integration calls for recruiting female Naval Academy graduates and providing them the same training as given to male submariners, Rear Adm. Barry L. Bruner, commander of Submarine Group 10 and the leader of the Women on Submarines Task Force, said during a phone interview with reporters.
“We’re looking for the same qualifications that we have for men,” Bruner said. “There is no difference.” Those qualifications include a technically-based education that includes calculus and physics, he said. Female candidates for submarine duty also will undergo the Navy’s intense interview and screening process for prospective underwater sailors.
Because the policy is new, officials can’t yet gauge women’s interest in serving on submarines, Bruner said, but added that a number of female academy students and graduates have shown interest.
The plan calls for phasing in three female officers in eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic missile submarines, Bruner said. The class they will serve in is comprised of 14 ballistic missile submarines and four cruise missile submarines, he said. The submarines were chosen because the berthing and restrooms are designed so they need very few changes, he said. It is too soon to say specifically which submarines they will serve on, but there will be one each in King’s Bay, Ga., and Bangor, Maine, he said.
Bruner became convinced of the need to integrate women onto submarines years ago, he said, after spending some time aboard allied nations’ submarines that included women crew members.
“I went in really with my eyes wide open,” he said. “I came away under the impression that there is no difference in the camaraderie or abilities [of crews] on ships with women on board.”
Bruner later became the commander of a strike group with women on all of its ships. “I asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing this on submarines? It’s such a viable talent pool.’”
The Navy has learned from its 1994 change that integrated women onto surface ships, Bruner said. The service will have enough women on ships and submarines, he said, so that they aren’t isolated. And, men and women submariners will have additional training before the integration and there will be female sailors available as mentors, he said.
After talking to current submariners and their families, Bruner said, he doesn’t think the integration will cause much of a cultural change.
“The change to the culture on submarines is going to be pretty minimal, to be honest,” Bruner said. The only concern among current submariners, he said, is that all crew members live up to the demands of the undersea service.
“When you wear the dolphins of a submariner, you have to prove that if there is a casualty on the ship that could result in the loss of the ship and all the lives on the ship, you have to be able to react correctly to save the ship,” Bruner said. “That’s the most import thing to submariners.”
Bruner said he has no doubt that the women will prove themselves.
“I think we have the right processes in place and we’ll train on them again,” he said. “We’ll hit all the potential areas that could cause problems.”
At a town hall meeting held last night at King’s Bay Naval Base, Bruner said, only two wives within an audience of about 75 expressed discontent over the new policy. Their concerns, he said, were whether women would get preferential promotions.
Bruner reiterated that the women will be held to the same workplace rules as men. “Sometimes change can be hard, and the way you get through it is through education and explaining why you’re doing it and how you’ll go through it,” he said.