NEW LONDON, Conn. — The Department of the Navy plans to add enlisted women crewmembers to seven Ohio-class submarines starting in 2016 and to four Virginia-class attack submarines beginning in 2020.
"I think this is just the next step in a process that started a number of years ago to tap into a talented part of the Navy to help run very sophisticated vessels, and to me that's a real huge advantage that the Navy is capitalizing on," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. "... Women sailors do a great job on surface ships. They have been doing it for a long time, and obviously, with good planning and accommodation, I think the submarine force stands to gain from having women serve in the enlisted rank as well."
The Navy's most recent integration plan was given to Congress on July 18 and likely won't be released to the general public until the end of the year because Congress must have 30 days of continuous session — days when both chambers are in session — to review the plan.
In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, the Department of Defense explains its intention to modify seven Ohio-class submarines and build Virginia-class submarines to meet "habitability requirements" for crews comprising men and women.
Courtney said the costs of providing separate sleeping quarters for women and adding lavatory signs are minimal compared to shipbuilding costs in general. "This plan does not affect the existing Los Angeles-class submarines," he said. "If they had to modify that, that would cost money because they weren't built for gender class separation. But the Ohio-class subs were so big that it really wasn't that difficult to set up sleeping quarters for women only and make sure lavatories have proper signage."
Building the new Virginia-class attack submarines to accommodate women's quarters shouldn't require large design or construction changes, Courtney added.
The integration plan calls for women to make up 20 percent of the enlisted crew of submarines on which female officers are already serving. More than 60 women officers are serving on 14 ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarine crews.
Female officers began integrating into the submarine force in 2011 after the Navy lifted its ban on women serving aboard submarines in 2010. Female officers will be arriving at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton by January 2015 to join the crews of the attack submarines USS Virginia (SSN 774) and the USS Minnesota (SSN 783).
The USS Michigan (SSGN 727) is the first submarine that enlisted women would report to in 2016, according to integration plan. Women would be able to serve in all job positions on submarines formerly closed to enlisted women.
Opportunities for enlisted women are changing because in 2013 the DOD retracted the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule, which excluded women from being assigned "to units below the brigade level whose primary mission was to engage in direct combat on the ground."
"The Navy, we are very excited to roll out this plan because we believe, and again we have been very persistent about this, that there are very capable women who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force," said Timothy Hawkins, a spokesman for Submarine Group 2. "Drawing from this talent helps us maintain the world's best force."
The integration plan released to Congress is the result of a 60-person task force led by Rear Adm. Kenneth M. Perry. The panel met for a little more than a year and reviewed questions such as how many enlisted women are interested in serving aboard submarines and what modification would be required.
"The Navy looks forward to publicly releasing details of the plan once the congressional notification process is complete," Hawkins said.