At All Hands Calls I often get asked about the integration of women into the submarine force. Sailors, male and female alike, are curious about the progress we’ve made and what’s next for women in submarines.
Integrating women into submarines is one of many ways we ensure our warfighting edge. In my Sailing Directions, I discuss how our Sailors and Navy Civilians give us an asymmetric advantage in our warfighting capability. When we draw upon the widest possible set of talents, skills, and backgrounds it becomes a source of our strength, both as a nation and a Navy. Attracting and retaining the best talent America has to offer requires us to ensure that every Sailor has an equal opportunity to develop his or her talent to their fullest potential.
Starting in 2015, women officers will have the opportunity to serve aboard Virginia-class attack submarines. USS Virginia (SSN 774) and USS Minnesota (SSN 783) will serve as the first attack submarines with women officers.
Per the Secretary of Navy’s guidance, we have taken the first steps to integrate Enlisted women into the submarine force. If practical, we will do this in 2016. Last May, the Enlisted Women in Submarines Task Force began planning how to integrate Enlisted women into the submarine service.
This plan will involve a number of factors. First, we are applying the lessons learned from previous gender integration initiatives. Lessons gathered from the integration of women officers in submarines, and lessons from when women integrated into surface ships. One lesson we learned from that period is to ensure we have the right leadership in place at the right levels. We’ve started with Officers and will follow with Chiefs before assigning junior Enlisted women to submarines. In addition, we need a strong cohort of prospective Sailors reporting aboard, and we also need to consider the time it takes to access and train a submariner. To ensure the best outcome, we will survey the fleet and potential recruits to gauge interest and expectations about serving aboard submarines. Remember, everyone in the submarine force is a volunteer.
Beyond the personnel considerations, physical factors of ship configuration have to be taken into account. Different classes of submarines require varying levels of modification to ensure appropriate berthing habitability and privacy for all crewmembers. For example, while the wardroom and stateroom area of a Trident submarine will accommodate women officers with minor modifications, the same is not true for crew berthing which are constrained by physical limitations. As we build new submarines, gender-neutral berthing will be built into the design.
All these factors, combined with a motivated force, will provide a deliberate way to successfully integrate women Sailors into submarines. What we do – whether on ships, aircraft or ashore – requires a great deal of skill, knowledge, personal discipline and teamwork. When our team draws on the talent, dedication and skills of all our Sailors we will remain the finest Navy in the world.