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Debating Whether Women Should Serve on Navy Submarines

The Navy is expected to announce a policy change today

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On February 17, 1864, the Confederate Navy launched the world's first successful military submarine action when the CSS Hunley sank the USS Housatonic. Since then, the United States has remained a world leader in submarine warfare. On Thursday, the U.S. Navy is expected to announce that it will allow women on submarines for the first time in its history. Women have been able to serve on other Navy combat ships since the 1990s, but have been banned from submarines. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had notified Congress in February of the change. Now that it's happening, is it a good idea?

  • How It Will Be Implemented CNN reports, "A phased approach is being considered under which officers -- who already have separate living quarters -- would be the first to go co-ed, followed by crews, with the women bunking together, the official said. Crew space would have to be modified prior to that happening, the official added. The submarines expected to carry women initially would be the larger ones -- nuclear-powered, missile-carrying submarines known as SSBN and SSGN, the official said."
  • Coed Subs Work For Other Navies The Christian Science Monitor's Taraneh Ghajar Jerven argues, "there is no evidence that integrating crews will undermine national security or cause social disruption. In fact, the practice of submarine crew integration has been successful for Canada, Australia, Norway, and Sweden. A study commissioned for NATO found that on Canadian Victoria-class submarines, 'Women have been seamlessly integrated into the environment with few problems. No attempts have been made to segregate the genders, and no special provision has been made for bunking or shower facilities.'"
  • Military Needs All The Women It Can Get Scripps' Bonnie Erbe writes, "Women now make up some 15 percent of the all-volunteer services, and have become crucial to keeping the nation's military operational ... While integrating women into the armed services has created some problems, no one ever talks about the necessity the all-volunteer forces have created. There's a shortage of Americans volunteering for the services. Were it not for the large number of women seeking to serve, Congress may well have had to reinstitute a draft."
  • What About Health Issues? The Washington Times' Rowan Scarborough cautions, "A specialist on undersea medicine is warning Congress that the air inside a submarine can be hazardous to fetal development. ... a sub's confined atmosphere is a soup of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, aerosol trace elements and 'other hazardous substances' -- all of which cannot be removed because the ventilation system would be too large."
  • Risk of Pregnant Sub Sailors The Moderate Voice's Dorian De Wind worries about health concerns when "the number of pregnant sailors in deploying units had nearly doubled to 3,125" out of 54,000 Navy servicewomen. "While so many other arguments against women in the military serving to their full potential are based on flimsy, oftentimes intolerant and chauvinistic arguments, this is one that, in my opinion, merits further debate and investigation."
  • The Wrong Priority National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez scoffs, "How this is a priority for the military right now (or ever, but let's focus on right now) seems hard to fathom." She calls the policy "nonsensical." Lopez cites a 1995 column by Florence King mocking the idea of women on submarines:
Take out the torpedoes to make room for individual shower stalls. Operational equipment? On coed subs? Don't be silly. Get rid of the periscope. Who needs one when you've got female intuition aboard? "I have a feeling something is up there . . . "
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.