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During a recent news conference, a senior Navy official speaking on background said that assigning women to fast-attack subs would incur costs, but he did not elaborate.

“Lots of plans are being discussed and [it’s] too early to tell,” said Cmdr. Monica Rousselow, a Navy spokeswoman.

Fraternization

Other concerns include fraternization and pregnancy, especially when a submarine might be unable to surface.

“The fraternization potential, in my opinion, would be very high. The fast-attack lifestyle is extremely cramped and would really need mature personnel and leadership to enable female members to serve successfully,” former submariner Brian Penders said, adding that fraternization on a fast-attack vessel probably would not exceed that on larger subs or surface ships.

The Navy said it does not track data on male-female fraternization.

According to a January report in Stars and Stripes, a recent Navy survey found that nearly three-quarters of sailor pregnancies are unplanned. Of those, only 31 percent were using birth control at the time of conception.

Traces of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and other gases in a submarine could harm a developing child in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, when a sailor might not know she is pregnant, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a staunch critic of women in combat roles.

Dr. Hugh Scott, a retired Navy rear admiral, said the levels of carbon dioxide in a submerged submarine are 10 times higher that those in the open atmosphere and could damage the brain of a fetus. He said he has called for Navy studies on the impact of prolonged exposure on women’s fertility, bone health and developing fetuses, but none has been conducted. Dr. Scott served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations from 1992 to 1994 as director of the Medical Resources and Plans and Policy divisions.

Lt. Leveque, who is married to a fellow submariner, said fraternization will not be a problem.

“Honestly, it’s a very professional working environment, and that doesn’t change when we go [from port] to sea at all,” said Lt. Leveque, one of the first three women to earn the submarine warfare officer “dolphins” pin, after nearly two years of training and a deployment aboard the ballistic-missile sub USS Wyoming, based in Kings Bay, Ga.

She is backed by at least two other female Navy pioneers — retired Capt. Lory Manning, who was one of the first women to serve on a surface ship, and Capt. Joellen Oslund, one of the first six women accepted into Navy flight school in 1972 and the Navy’s first female helicopter pilot.

“I think [the military] threw up a lot of artificial barriers that have finally come down, and I expect the women will do fine in submarines,” Capt. Oslund said.

“It’s where every submariner wants to go,” Capt. Manning said. “The other [submarines] just sort of sit out there and wait for the balloon to go up. [A fast-attack sub is] where every submarine admiral has to spend time.”