Permissible Arms

Having a presence

Posted in united states, us military by Karaka on 30 April 2010

So, some links about women authorized for service on USN submarines.

From CNN:

The first women to serve on U.S. Navy submarines are expected to be on the job by fall of 2011, Navy officials said Thursday, ushering in a policy change to what has been an elite service open only to men since the start of the modern Navy’s submarine program.

While Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the change last month, the Navy had to wait for Congress to review and approve the policy change over a 30-day period which ended at midnight Thursday morning…The Navy will implement the policy change by assigning three female officers to eight different crews of guided-missile attack and ballistic-missile submarines. The assignments involve two submarines on the East Coast and two on the West Coast, according to Navy officials.

I’m pleased at the follow-through. I honestly had some doubts that the policy change would actually go through, and I’m happy to be wrong.

The new NavyLive covered the announcement with a little more depth in this post by RADM Barry Bruner:

The change in the policy to allow women to serve on submarines is applicable to both officer and enlisted – but, right now the plan is only focused on bringing officers onboard. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important being that selectivity demands we open the aperture for officer selection. In 2005 and in 2008 we did not quite meet our goals for officer accession in the submarine force. Over the past 40 years the percentage of men graduating with technical degrees has gone down from 75 to 49 percent with an increase in women earning technical degrees (an increase from 25 to 51 percent). Given this increasing need to open up the selectivity aperture – along with the fact that our SSBN and SSGN class of submarines allows for privacy and a viable career path for women, the logical step forward is to allow female officers into the submarine force. Based on the lessons we learn while implementing this plan I anticipate the Navy will then consider the way forward for enlisted women on submarines.

Now, that’s the best practical argument I’ve seen for the policy change. Setting aside whatever discomfort one might have with the policy, on traditional or prejudicial grounds, the numbers above dovetail with an adherence to non-discriminatory policy. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again: if a person can meet the physical and job-related qualifications for a service, gender should be irrelevant.

Yesterday morning, the DOD gave a little more detail about the integration of women into two classes of submarines, including an interview with the above RADM:

“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.

Emphasis mine. And Navy Times has even more particulars. The USNI Blog weighs in here with some good (and troubling) responses in the comments.

A couple of interesting facts: women represent 15% of USN personnel. Women have served on USN surface ships since 1993. The policy change only affects female officers. It seems likely that female enlisted personnel will eventually be integrated as well.

About bloody time.


8 Responses

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  1. Alec said, on 1 May 2010 at 00:29

    I’ll avoid asking about specifics, so not to be accused of making puerile references to female submariners, but what *have* been the restrictions?

    • Karaka said, on 1 May 2010 at 10:09

      In terms of not allowing women to serve on submarines?

      • Alec said, on 1 May 2010 at 11:14

        Yus. At least there’ll be no concerns about not shaving.

        • Karaka said, on 1 May 2010 at 11:37

          I would say it stems largely from tradition, and from slow-moving reconciliation of the US Military’s gender split and the ethical doctrine of equality the institution adopted. The original justification, I believe, was that women should not be allowed to see combat, thus preventing female personnel from serving as pilots, submariners, on carrier cruisers, and as infantrymen. Several of those policies were rescinded in the 1990’s, but as you can see there are still several legacy policies that are taking greater time to counter.

          With submarines in particular, my understanding of the argument is that the closed society of a submersible and their long-term unrelieved missions would do one of two things: either endanger women who serve onboard by trapping them with a few hundred seamen, or encourage the violation of fraternization rules (possibly resulting in a pregnancy). That plus the restrictions on female personnel in combat situations kept the policy entrenched until now.

  2. Alec said, on 1 May 2010 at 12:05

    The discomfiture at women becoming the destroyer of life instead of the giver (as if no-one’s heard of Kali or Lilith) is, of course, commonplace. During WWII, ack-ack guns on British soil would be predominately ‘manned’ by women because the men were elsewhere.

    They’d hoy and load the shells, and even aim; but still, at least one man was required to be present to pull the trigger.

    The social concerns are what I was thinking of, and reminds me of the 1842 Mines Act which barred women (and children) from working underground. Before, women and men often had laboured alongside each other in the cramped and dangerous mines.

    • Karaka said, on 1 May 2010 at 12:15

      yeah, I certainly don’t give any credence to the arguments I laid out. It’s the same social paternalism again and again in so very many situations, not merely the west or the US military.

      • Alec said, on 2 May 2010 at 03:17

        The idea of commanding a team of women in the close and sweaty interior of an ack-ack position appealed to a certain male fantasy, as will I am sure female submariners.

        I remember reading a piece about mixed-sex close quarter fighting based on Israeli (unlike Soviet women on the Eastern Front, they don’t purposefully de-sex themselves) and, to a lesser extent, US forces which suggested that in the heat of it, male fighters might still be suppressing a instinctive desire to ‘protect’ their ‘womenfolk’.

        Submarine warfare or fighter jets (although, I assume, a lesser proportion of hopeful women who qualify for the latter because of the additional stresses from g-force), however, should have a sufficient perceptual difference with close quarter fighting to make this irrelevant.

      • Alec said, on 2 May 2010 at 12:18

        A mal-effect of the Mines Act was to remove from many families vital sources of income, in an age with no child support and wattknot. At times, the bigger concern from Victorian moralists had come from the idea of men and women working together in states of undress.

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