WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top Pentagon officials are calling for an end to the U.S. military’s historical ban on allowing women to serve in submarines.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the top U.S. military officer, advocated the policy change in written congressional testimony distributed by his office to reporters on Friday.
“I believe we should continue to broaden opportunities for women. One policy I would like to see changed is the one barring (women’s) service aboard submarines,” Mullen said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he was “moving out aggressively on this.”
“I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force,” Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in a statement.
Women account for about 15 percent of the more than 336,000 members of the U.S. Navy and can serve on its surface ships. But critics have argued that submarines are different, pointing to cramped quarters where some crews share beds in shifts.
Nancy Duff Campbell, an advocate for expanding the role of women in the U.S. armed forces, said it would be easy to resolve problems associated with so-called “hot-bunking.”
“They say, ‘How could we have the women sleeping in the same area as men?’” said Campbell, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC).
“But they already separate where the officers sleep from the enlisted, so it’s not like it can’t be done.”
Roughead said the problem of sorting out accommodations on the U.S. fleet of 71 submarines was not insurmountable.
Allowing women on submarines would be another step forward in expanding the role of women in the U.S. military. Last year, a woman was promoted to the rank of four-star general for the first time.
Women are still barred from traditional frontline combat roles in the U.S. military. But female soldiers often run the same risks as men in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombings and other insurgent attacks can happen almost anywhere and target any U.S. unit.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Paul Simao