Sunday, 30 May 2010

First women on US submarines

On Friday (May 28 2010) the first eleven women who will serve on nuclear submarines had their commisioning ceremony at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis. Hooray! Imagine what the future's submarine movies are going to be like. Nothing like the above poster: 'He volunteered for the submarine service.' No more all-male enclaves

I'd rather not have war at all. But people who want to do a job and are suited to it should be able to do it, regardless of gender, orientation, race or whatever. Equal rights are simply and unarguably crucial.

When is every country, including Britain, going to follow suit?

At the moment UK naval women aren't allowed on subs for fear that nuclear radiation will damage any foetus who might be stowing away on board. It's a tired and implausible argument - other countries dodn't use it.

But I've heard a whisper that the newest UK subs have just been built with extra accommodation, to allow separate quarters for women. And one UK solution allegedly being discussed is that women may have IUD contraceptive devices inserted, to make really sure no one gets pregnant while aboard.

Associated Press's Brian Witte reports that the very supportive US Vice President Joe Biden said on Friday it was a milestone year for US Naval women in training. It's only a month since Congress agreed to end the ban on women in subs. They have been working on surface ships since 1994 (whereas in Britian they began in 1993), although they still aren't at sea in equal numbers. Of this year's 1,028 Annapolis graduates, women were just 21 per cent.

In October about twenty trainees will be going to the US Navy's Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina. It's a 15 month-programme, minimum.

After qualifying in 2011, this first batch - all officers - will work on two sorts of subs: guided-missile attack and ballistic-missile. These have more living space than the other subs. Later women will work on the smaller subs as they are refitted.

The plan for stage one is that three women will be in each submarine's rotating crew. They will share a cabin with other women, and a bathroom with 12 other officers. A sign on the door will show whether a women or a man is using it.I can't see the point, myself. I mean, what house do you know with a sign saying who is occupying the loo? The signs may soon 'get lost,' I imagine.

But at least we're getting there.



DB said...

I'm a cadet in the UK's CCF (Combined Cadet Force), and in the last year have visited two RN submarines: HMS Victorious, which carries part of our Trident system, and HMS Torbay, which is nuclear-powered but carries 'only' convenional weapons.

When on board Torbay, we were told that the T-class were in fact built to accomodate female personnel, since one of the blocks of sleeping accomodation is effectively en-suite. The problem, they said, was the risk of pregnancy on board: it would require evacuating the mother off the boat, which would place the boat at risk and remove the advantage of being covert to begin with. On a submarine you have to be understandably over-cautious about your ability to accomodate anyone on board: although we were only staying for a few hours, the first thing we were told was where we would sleep if they couldn't make it back to shore. The women in the visiting group would have had officers' (ie, more private) bunks.

It's interesting that the US are ahead of us in having women submariners, despite their heel-dragging over DADT.

Dr Jo Stanley, FRHistS. said...

That's fascinating, DB. Thanks. I think the Navy's point about pregnancy is fine IF the pregnancy is advanced or known to be problematic, and when it's a very senstive mission far from home. But all human beings have the potential to fail suddenly in health.

The point is, if you're very pregnant, you stay home.

This stress of pregnancy posits it as A. automatically a health problem. B. Something that will happen a lot, to all women.