A Republican congressman Thursday proposed legislation to bar Navy women from serving on submarines unless Congress gives the OK.
The amendment from Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Maryland will be voted on Wednesday by the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Bartlett wants to make the language part of the 2001 Defense Authorization Act, which puts military policy into federal law.
Mr. Bartlett took the action after learning in Thursday’s editions of The Washington Times that the Pentagon’s civilian advisory panel on military women has recommended sexually integrating the all-male submarine force. The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) said the integration should start by putting female officers on Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines.
The Navy officially opposes the change, although Navy Secretary Richard Danzig has prodded the service to consider a mixed-sex silent service.
In earlier memos to the committee, the Navy said that missile and Los Angeles attack subs are simply too cramped now for male crews, much less for women who require private berthing and lavatories. Reconfiguring the new Virginia-class attack subs to accommodate women, as recommended by the panel, would add $4 million in cost to each ship and force the Navy to reduce war-fighting capability, the Navy has said.
Mr. Bartlett said, “I think effectiveness would go down. Several of them would come home pregnant. I think this is a no-brainer.”
The congressman attempted to bring up the amendment Thursday during a session of the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee. But Chairman Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, asked that the bill not come up until the full committee votes on the defense bill next week.
Mr. Bartlett said the best he could hope for was an 8-8 vote in subcommittee. But he predicted passage in what he says is a more conservative full committee.
“The submarines are far too confined,” he said. “To reconfigure them would cost far too much. The military has made all the salient arguments.”
Mr. Danzig chided the submarine service last year for being too white, all-male and not reflecting America’s diversity. But his top officer, Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, opposes coed subs. Mr. Danzig has not moved to change the policy.
Commenting on the advisory committee’s recommendation, Mr. Danzig told the Associated Press Thursday, “The logical next step is to encourage the submarine community to as dispassionately as possible evaluate both parts of that and talk about it.”
The committee last fall recommended redesign of the Virginia-class subs to accommodate women. This time, it added a new wrinkle by proposing that integration begin just with female officers who would have private staterooms onboard. This tactic is an attempt to blunt the Navy’s no-space argument.
“For short-term integration, DACOWITS recommends that the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations commence with assigning women officers to SSBNs,” the non-binding committee recommendation said, referring to the huge “boomers” that lurk for months under the sea, armed with long-range Trident nuclear missiles.
“DACOWITS acknowledges the Navy’s concerns regarding privacy, habitability and the costs associated with integrating women into the submarine community,” the report said. “However, the Navy’s historical experience and commitment to the utilization of women on other platforms provides a model for change.”
The committee is made up of 36 civilians appointed by the defense secretary.
Besides the privacy issue, naval experts say that long months at sea in tight quarters would create sexual tensions and jealousies, harming unit cohesion.
Congress in 1994 removed legal barriers to women serving on combat ships. It exempted submarines, but said the Navy may make the change with a 30-day notice to Congress.
Mr. Bartlett said that safeguard is meaningless.
“Without my amendment, the Clinton administration could impose this counterproductive policy change while Congress is out of session as a final sop to its radical feminist supporters,” he said.
Kenneth Bacon, spokesman for Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, said Thursday he did not know the secretary’s position on the issue.
“My guess is that this is an issue that he will leave to the Navy at this stage,” he said.
The congressman’s legislation sets the stage for renewed debate on women in the military. Two years ago, Mr. Bartlett successfully persuaded the House to enact a bill ending coed basic training, after reports of lax discipline and sexual misconduct by trainers and recruits. But the Senate refused to go along and the proposal died.