- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

A key senator says she will oppose any law to ban female sailors as Navy submarine crew members, casting doubt that such legislation will pass this year.

A House Republican lawmaker is set to offer an amendment on Wednesday to the pending Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit females from serving on undersea boats.

But Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she will not go along.

"I would oppose legislation banning the integration of women onto submarines, as it is unnecessary and inappropriate," she said in a statement. "Changes to this policy should be made by the leaders of the Department of the Navy, based on the Navy's total force strength and individual warfare community needs.

"The women in our military have proven they are an integral part of our war-fighting forces and continually demonstrate their capability in assignments previously restricted to men only."

Mrs. Snowe has shown an ability to block legislation that would restrict military women. Two years ago, the House enacted an amendment ordering the military to revert to sex-separate recruit training. But the senator strongly opposed it and the measure failed in the Senate.

The issue of coed submarines arose anew last week after The Washington Times reported that the Pentagon's civilian advisory committee on military women recommended that the Navy open the "silent service" to females. The sub force is one of the few career fields still off-limits after the administration lifted the ban on women on most combat ships in 1994.

In her statement, Mrs. Snowe neither endorsed nor opposed lifting the submarine restriction.

She said she had met in December with the admiral in charge of Atlantic submarines and toured a Los Angeles-class attack boat.

"We discussed the fact that our current submarine force has valid habitability and quality of life issues that need to be addressed," Mrs. Snowe said. "These changes require future planning and substantial funding to find practical solutions that will not affect the accomplishments of the submarine force mission."

The Navy opposes sex-integration in the current fleet of Los-Angeles attack and Ohio-class missile submarines. It says it would have to remove war-fighting capabilities to make room for new berthing and bathrooms. For the same reason, the Navy also opposes accommodating women in constructing the new Virginia-class attack ships.

Some military experts say the long hours at sea, in extremely tight working and living conditions, make sex-integration a danger to unit cohesion.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) recommended last week that the Navy begin integration by assigning female officers to the Ohio ballistic-missile boats. It also urged the Navy to redesign the Virginia-class ships so women can serve.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, plans to introduce an amendment on Wednesday in the House Armed Services Committee to put the Navy's opposition into law.

"There's no way to square the circle around these obstacles," he said. "Without my amendment, the Clinton administration could impose this counterproductive policy change as a final sop to its radical feminist supporters."

Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has urged the submarine community to discuss the issue, but says he has no plans to lift the ban.

Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations, opposes mixed-sex sub crews.

The advisory committee did not include the Los Angeles ships in the recommendation. The Navy augmented those ships in the 1980s with such features as a cruise-missile launch capability. The boats are so cramped now that significant hardware, such as fire control and navigation equipment, would have to be removed to make room for women, according to Navy sources.

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