The Pentagon’s civilian advisory committee on military women has recommended the Navy sexually integrate submarines by first putting female officers on ballistic missile submarines.
The recommendation from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) represents a new tactic in its unsuccessful drive to convince the Navy to make male-only submarines coed.
A “working copy” of its pending report to the Navy says complete integration should begin by putting female officers on Ohio-class missile submarines, a much larger ship than Los Angeles attack subs.
By recommending female officers, but not enlisted sailors, the committee is attempting to blunt the Navy’s chief argument that insufficient space exists for women’s privacy, even on the bigger boats. The 155-sailor Ohio-class submarines can lurk undetected for months under the sea, armed with long-range Trident ballistic missiles. The Navy had no immediate comment yesterday.
Committee spokeswoman Army Maj. Susan Kolb said they picked officers and missile subs because of the vessel’s larger size and because officer quarters would provide more privacy than enlisted berthing.
“They need to first introduce women into the larger submarines before any recommendation could be made on the smaller submarines,” Maj. Kolb said.
Last summer, for the first time, the Navy dispatched female ROTC students to spend two nights on Ohio subs a sign to some that the Navy is inching toward coed submarines. Previously, the future women officers were restricted to day trips.
The new DACOWITS report also recommends the Navy redesign Virginia-class subs now under construction to accommodate women a move the Navy says will cost $4 million more per ship and take away war-fighting capabilities.
The committee is comprised of 36 civilians, including five men, appointed by the defense secretary. The 34 members attending a meeting last weekend voted unanimously to integrate submarines. The panel is chaired by Vickie McCall, a real estate agent who serves on the Utah Alcohol and Beverage Control Commission.
The Navy is not expected to accept mixed-sex subs anytime soon. A Navy memo provided to the advisory committee describes the cramped living and working conditions for toiling male submariners.
The memo concluded by saying, “The Navy’s decision regarding the assignment of women to submarines has been reviewed, determining that no new information has become available … which would provide a basis for changing the policy.”
In response, the committee’s report states: “DACOWITS acknowledges the Navy’s concerns regarding privacy, habitability and the costs associated with integrating women into the submarine community. However, the Navy’s historic experience and commitment to utilization of women on other platforms provides a model for change. Drawing on these experiences will better enable the Navy to overcome obstacles it perceives as prohibiting integration of women into submarine service.”
On redesigning the entire Virginia class, the committee wrote, “Current experience indicates it is unreasonable to presume that women will not be assigned to submarines sometime in the next 40 years (estimated service life of Virginia-class submarines). Redesign now before this submarine class begins full production will avoid even more costly reconfiguration in the future.”
The Navy memo to the committee said neither Los Angeles- nor Ohio-class subs meet habitability standards for men, much less for an influx of women needing special privacy considerations.
Reconstructing boats to take on women, the Navy said, would “further reduce existing below-standard conditions or require the removal of equipment as a space and weight trade-off which would result in reduced operational capabilities of the ship or require lengthening the ship to obtain additional space and weight margin. This option would be very costly.”
A Navy briefing paper obtained by The Washington Times says redesigning the Virginia subs, which are due for operation in 2004, “would have two negative effects: further degrade habitability for both genders and require removal of operational equipment reducing warfighting effectiveness.”
The committee has had mixed success. For example, it has recommended for years that the Army sexually integrate crews for the multiple launch rocket system. The Army has refused each time.
The Navy sexually integrated most combat ships in 1994, including 5,000-sailor aircraft carriers. But it excluded submarines because of tight living conditions, tense months at sea and worries that sexual tension could ruin unit cohesion.
Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations and a career aviator, opposes putting women on subs. But several Navy sources say his chosen successor, Adm. Vernon Clark, may be more amenable. Adm. Johnson’s term ends this summer.
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig told a group of submarine officers and contractors last year that the silent service’s racial and all-male profile could hurt its appeal to budget-writing lawmakers.
“The most Narcissus-like thing about creating something in your own image, about being in love with your own image, is the continued and continuous existence of this segment of the Navy as a white-male preserve,” he said. Aides later said Mr. Danzig has no immediate plans to change the barrier.