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Enlisted women to serve on attack submarines after 2020

Jul. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
The ballistic-missile submarine Wyoming is one of seven subs with female officers. Starting in 2016, these subs will be the first to include female enlisted crew members.
The ballistic-missile submarine Wyoming is one of seven subs with female officers. Starting in 2016, these subs will be the first to include female enlisted crew members. (MC1 Rex Nelson/Navy)
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With female officers having served in the boomer force for nearly three years, the Navy is aiming for women to make up a significant portion of the ballistic-missile submarine force by 2020, one of the new waypoints in the silent service’s historic integration.

By 2020, the Navy plans to have women make up 20 percent of the enlisted crew on seven of the 18 Ohio-class submarines, according to the Navy’s latest integration plan. The plan also calls for enlisted women to begin serving on attack submarines after 2020, when the Block IV Virginia-class submarines begin entering the service.

“There are many very capable women with the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force. Drawing from this talent enables us to maintain our undersea dominance,” said Lt. J.G. Eric Durie, spokesman for Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a statement to Navy Times. “For these reasons, we have been working diligently to integrate enlisted women into the submarine force.

“We have a plan for this integration which we will discuss in detail once the congressional notification process has been completed later this year.”

Mabus has been the driving force for opening opportunities for women across the service in his five-year tenure.

More than 50 women now serve as officers on Ohio-class subs in 14 crews; thosesubmarines will be the first to integrate enlisted women beginning in 2016, officials said. They include:

■ The blue and gold crews aboard the ballistic-missile subs Maine, Wyoming and Louisiana.

■ The blue and gold crews aboard the guided-missile subs Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Georgia. .

A task force led by Rear Adm. Ken Perry, head of Submarine Group 2, has been working on the plan to bring enlisted women into the silent service since May 2013. Its plan was delivered to Congress the week of June 14.

The report lays out a long-range blueprint for the next phases of the integration effort, which could be sped up or slowed based on fleet feedback.

“Any changes in the plan moving forward will be to ensure the success of every submarine crew,” said one submarine official familiar with the report, who asked for anonymity while it’s being briefed to lawmakers.

In 2020 and beyond, the plan calls to look at adding women to four Virginia-class crews.

Officials have said the Virginia-class attack subs Virginia and Minnesota are slated to receive female officers in early 2015 and that they hope to have female enlisted in the sub force as soon as 2016.

Greg Jacob, policy director at the Service Women’s Action Network, praised the Navy’s plan to integrate women on boomers and said that the Navy should push hard to fully integrate the attack submarines quickly.

“The Navy has been doing this in a very systematic and progressive way,” Jacob said. “Getting women on the attack boats, though, that’s the way this has to go. Because in all the key command and staff billets, the Navy looks for combatant experience. That’s just the culture.”

Jacob said the Navy missed an opportunity in the early 2000s to design the Virginia-class submarines to accommodate women, inclduing separate berths for women and men.

The service recently signed the largest shipbuilding contract in its history for the Block IV Virginia-class subs. The $18 billion contract is for 10 of the high-tech attack boats that will have both female officers and enlisted serving on board.

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