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Reprinted with permission from the May 2000 issue of CMR Notes, a publication of The Center for Military Readiness. Ms. Donnelly is President of The Center for Military Readiness.

Ignoring common sense and compelling advice from Navy experts, the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) recommended at its spring 2000 meeting that female officers be assigned to Ohio class (Trident) ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The 36 member committee, largely composed of civilian women, also pushed the Navy to begin taking steps to assign women to the new Virginia class attack subs, which are considerably smaller than the Tridents. A legislative amendment offered by Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) would block implementation of the DACOWITS proposal, pending sufficient time for congressional review.

This edition of CMR Notes summarizes major points regarding the issue that have been made in several comprehensive studies and reports-all of which were pointedly ignored by the DACOWITS. The most authoritative review was done for the Navy in 1995 by the highly respected firm, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The SAIC report, titled “Submarine Assignment Policy Assessment”. was withheld from public view until 1999. when the Center for Military Readiness obtained a copy and began publicizing its findings.

This article also quotes a slide presentation made by Navy Captain Bob Holland at the DACOWITS’ fall 1999 meeting, and a written Navy Response to the committee’s Request for Information that was provided at the committee’s spring 2000 meeting.
1. The size of a submarine is roughly one-half that of a 747. Passengers spend only a few hours on a 747. but submariners live in prison-sized quarters for weeks at a time. SSBN boomers stay submerged for as long as 77 continuous days. SSN attack subs deploy for as long as six months at a time with infrequent port calls.

  • Alterations for co-ed crews would: “further reduce existing below-standard conditions (for both genders); or require the removal of equipment as a space and weight trade-off, which would result in reduced operational capabilities of the ship, or in the extreme, require lengthening of the ship to obtain additional space and weight margin. This option would be very costly. n (Navy Response)
  • 2. Problems inherent in the DACOWITS’ incremental proposal could only be solved by gender integration of all subs. Permitting female officers on larger Ohio class SSBNs first would eventually lead to full gender integration on all classes of submarines, including the smaller but more numerous Los Angeles class attack subs (SSNs).

    • Limiting women to one class of submarines would create an unworkable career path. The Navy’s response to the committee noted that: “One of the principle tenets of submarine officer detailing is the general intention that officers serve on both types of submarines in order to broaden their experience in each.
    • At the same time, because Tridents are thought to provide a better quality of life, female assignments to SSBN boomers alone ” … may be perceived as an inequity within the community, by both officers and enlisted sailors. n (Navy Response}
    • A Trident-only plan would also create an unfair perception of tokenism. ” … [A] two-tiered system that separates the career paths of female and male submarine officers would be unacceptable because of [the] management requirements and the career limitations it would impose … n (SAIC)
    • The DACOWITS is either willfully ignorant on this point, or deliberately cynical in trying to mislead Congress. Either interpretation destroys the credibility of the tax-funded feminist committee, which will later argue that it is unrealistic and unfair to assign only female officers, but not enlisted women, to all classes of submarines
    • The DACOWITS was informed in a briefing last fall that career opportunities for women specializing in nuclear propulsion are readily available in other high-tech classes of ships, such as Nimitz class aircraft carriers.

    3. Separate quarters for women would further cramp living spaces on all submarines-which already fail to meet CNO habitability standards for surface ships to an intolerable degree.

    • Unencumbered space in sleeping areas and sanitary facilities is about one-half to one-third that afforded to crewmembers on small surface ships. On attack subs, it is not unusual to hot bunk about 40 percent of the crew. “Hot bunking, wherein three crew members share two bunks in shifts, is standard operating procedure on attack submarines. The total living area for more than 130 people is equivalent to a medium size house. ” Some sailors prefer to lay down mattresses in noisy torpedo rooms, rather than hot bunk. (SAIC)
    • Fifty enlisted submariners use each shower, compared to 25 sailors on surface ships. An enlisted person has less than half the storage space (3 vs. 7 .5 cubic feet) of surface counterparts. Space between bunks measures only 18 inches, compared to 24 inches. Submariners must tum sideways to get by each other in passageways that are only 27 inches side. {Navy Response)
    • “In both the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes, modifications which attain compliance with the [habitability] standards may not be possible without lengthening the ship … ” Re-assignment of scarce sanitary facilities to female sailors-restricting, in many cases, 50 percent of facilities to 10 percent of the crew-would cause inequities for the men. Cross-rank, single-gender berthing arrangements would disrupt prerogatives of rank in an already stressful environment. (SAIC)
    • According to preliminary work done on the new Virginia class attack submarines ” … additional facilities for women would require an increase in length from the baseline design and even then, the facilities were not fully compliant with the [habitability] standards.” (SAIC, quoting Naval Sea Systems Command)
    • Virginia class attack subs were designed to be smaller than the Seawolf, to reduce costs. Extensive redesign, as demanded by the DACOWITS, “would have two negative effects: further degrade habitability for both genders and require removal of operational equipment reducing warfighting effectiveness.” (Navy briefing paper, quoted by the Washington Times, May 4, 2000)
    • Ship alterations to accommodate women would cost approximately $5 million per attack submarine, not counting redesign costs of approximately $15 million per class, plus “required system changes and associated costs.” The Navy’s minimum estimate is 78 times more per crewmember than comparable alterations on carriers. ($313,000 vs. $4,000) In addition, the opportunity cost of taking submarines offline for extensive alterations would be a devastating blow to the already overburdened Silent Service. (Navy briefing slides, fall 1000, and Response to the DACOWITS)
    • Redesigning submarines would rob scarce maintenance funds, currently short about $220 million. Maintenance work on 15 ships was canceled this year. Without additional funds, critical work on 25 other ships, plus 18 more, will be skipped or scaled back next year. (Navy Times, May 22, 2000

    4. More importantly, current estimates of cost do not reflect the operational hazards of degrading undersea performance characteristics and combat capabilities, which are vastly different from the surface fleet.

    • A submarine is analogous to an undersea aircraft, which patrols the oceans for months at a time, unsupported and undetected in an environment more hostile than space. Even the smallest emergency, such as an electrical fire or seawater leak, poses an immediate threat to the entire crew. (SAIC)
    • The crew lives in and around equipment-an existence that has been compared to living inside a clock. “Critical electronic, hydraulic, and high pressure air systems pass through submarine bathing spaces. ” Redesignation of space designed for operation equipment could ”potentially [impact] the ship’s endurance and/or mission capability.” (Navy Response)

    5. Current estimates of cost do not reflect the impact of predictable health and safety problems. including heightened risks of gynecological emergencies and birth defects. The following medical issues were discussed in detail in the SAIC report, but omitted in the Navy’s recent response to the DACOWITS:

    • Cenain atmospheric elements that are not harmful to adults, such as carbon monoxide (CO), cannot be eliminated from the closed environment of a submarine. Toxic elements present a real threat to a female sailor’s unborn child: “The fetus is most sensitive and at the greatest risk in terms of the toxicological effects of the environment during the first three months of gestation … [E]ven moderate carbon monoxide exposure could decrease the oxygen transport capacity of maternal and fetal hemoglobin and result in interference in fetal tissue oxygenation during important developmental stages. ” (SAIC)
    • Ruptured ectopic pregnancies are also life-threatening and untreatable by a medical officer (usually not a doctor) in a sub’s closet-sized sickbay. (SAIC) Mandatory pre-deployment pregnancy tests would make sense, but feminists reject them as an infringement on women’s rights.
    • According to the Center for Naval Analysis, the unplanned loss rate for female sailors on surface ships (23 to 25 percent) is more than 2-112 times the rate for men (8 to 10 percent)-most often due to pregnancy and other medical conditions. Promotional losses on submarines could compromise stealth missions. and have a devastating effect on morale and readiness. (Washington Times, March 8, 1999
    • A ship•s captain who is faced with a female sailor in acute medical distress, or a pregnant sailor who fears birth defects due to CO and other toxic elements in the atmosphere, might have to order an immediate, unexpected trip to the surface. Mid-ocean evacuations, accomplished by means of a basket dangling from a helicopter, would be extremely perilous for all concerned. particularly when the sub is operating in deep ocean or under polar ice.

    6. It is unfair and unwise to impose unnecessary and unresolvable social and management problems on the submarine community.

    • The unplanned loss of any sailor from a small-crewed submarine, which requires 100 percent manning for continuous 18 hour shift cycles, imposes considerable stress on fellow crewmembers. Properly trained replacement personnel, who are usually not available even on surface ships, would be even more difficult to find and place on high tech submarines. With limited berthing available, replacements would have to match in terms of gender as well as qualifications. (SAIC)
    • Recent experience indicates that inappropriate relationships, ranging from harassment to sexual attraction, will occur and be known to the entire crew. Displays of affection are sure to undermine morale and discipline, since there is no effective way to separate the people involved, short of evacuation. Unplanned surfacings due to inappropriate personal behavior. as well as medical/pregnancy emergencies, would further compromise the mission. (SAIC)
    • Unrelenting stress and absence of personal comforts and privacy place a premium on morale and cohesion of the crew. There is no fresh air or communication with the outside world, except for 50-word family grams that are not private (SAIC) Divorce rates in the submarine community are already very high. Further stress on families, combined with predictable unplanned losses and non-deployability problems, could worsen personnel shortages, instead of improving them.
    • Norway, Sweden, and Australia assign a few women to small submarines, but brief coastal deployments are nowhere near as demanding as U.S. requirements. On small, 30 person Swedish subs, men and women change clothes, bunk and shower in the same spaces. “Love relationships” occurring while underway are conducted “professionally” and are treated with wary acceptance. (Navy Times, July 5, 1999)
    • Such arrangements are incompatible with sound personnel management practices, as well as American cultural values. Civilian policymakers play with fire when they throw ordinary human beings into an emotionally volatile, 100 percent oxygen environment, and then insist there be zero tolerance of sparks.


    In its response to the DACOWITS, the Navy summarized its position: “Due to their very unique space limitations, equipment density, and design constraints in an extended mission requirements environment, submarines cannot provide the necessary privacy to properly accommodate mixed gender crews. The Navy’s decision regarding the assignment of women to submarines has been reviewed, determining that no new information has become available from the Women at Sea program, which would provide a basis for changing the policy. ” (Navy Response).

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