Submarines -- Not just another "career path"

By Charles Bloomer
web posted May 15, 2000

The true value of changes to military equipment, tactics, or personnel policies is the contribution that any change makes to combat effectiveness. The fundamental question is this: How does this change affect the warfighter's ability to carry out the mission? There are three answers possible: 1) The change will enhance combat effectiveness; 2) the change makes no difference, or 3) the change will have a negative impact. Logic would indicate that changes that enhance effectiveness should be considered and that changes that negatively impact combat effectiveness should be avoided. The prime consideration of the military should be to obtain and retain the most effective means of defending the country.

That being the case, why is Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig considering assigning women to submarines? Is this a policy change that will positively impact submarine readiness and combat effectiveness? What evidence can the Secretary of the Navy show that will support the change? Why is the Secretary of the Navy ignoring the evidence that shows that assigning women to submarines will negatively impact the submarine force's warfighting capability and effectiveness?

The fact is that there is no evidence to show that assigning women to submarines is a good idea. According to the Center for Military Readiness (CMR) (, the Submarine Assignment Policy Assessment, a report prepared for the Navy by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in 1995 stated significant evidence against placing women on submarines. This report identified difficulties ranging from "tokenism" and "unfair career paths", to the cramped living quarters and considerable expense to modify submarines to accommodate women. Additionally, CMR points out the predictable health and safety problems, including heightened risks of gynecological emergencies and birth defects caused by living for extended periods of time in a closed atmosphere, the lack of a medical doctor on board, and the "closet-sized" sick bay discussed in detail in the SAIC report.

The campaign to put women on submarines is not coming from any desire to enhance or improve the submarine force's warfighting capabilities. Rather, that push is coming from the liberal leaning DACOWITS – Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services – and from feminists intent on destroying the "last white male bastion" of the Navy, as Secretary Danzig so arrogantly described it. DACOWITS has recently recommended the assignment of women to submarines, starting with women officers being assigned to Ohio-class missile submarines. The committee also recommended extremely expensive re-design of the Virginia-class attack submarines that are now under construction.

To push their agenda, DACOWITS and the feminists have twisted the argument in order to obscure the facts. Their argument has nothing to do with combat effectiveness or military readiness. In fact, the committee completely ignored the conclusions of the SAIC report. DACOWITS has recommended that women be allowed to serve on submarines in order to open the submarine "career path" to women. In order for the Navy to be "fair", they argue, women must be allowed to participate alongside men in the submarine career path, just as they are allowed to participate in the surface fleet and naval aviation.

This argument ignores some important realities regarding submarine operations. A submarine's advantage is in its undetectability, a characteristic enhanced by the capability to remain submerged for long periods of time. To take care of a medical emergency, the submarine must surface (compromising its location) and conduct an at sea transfer (always a risky operation), or it must abort its mission and transit to some base. Conducting an at-sea medical evacuation of a pregnant sailor would be dangerous for the mother and unborn child, dangerous for the crew, and would cause an unnecessary disruption of the submarine's mission. Ignoring the realities of submarine operation puts more sailors at risk and degrades our national security.

The feminists don't care about the downside of their position. They have a vision – a utopian vision – where their version of fairness trumps all discussion or disagreement. Facts mean nothing to them. The results of their social engineering and experimentation are of no interest to them. Their vision is immune to refutation, deaf to the lessons of history, and indifferent to logic.

The DACOWITS-feminist position is just plain wrong. This is not about "career paths." The Navy uses "career paths" to administratively manage its people. Sailors can look at the career counseling information and get a feel for the progression of their careers should they decide to stay in the Navy. Career counselors use this tool as they discuss re-enlistment options with sailors as they near the end of their enlistment. Commanding officers discuss career planning with their officers, helping junior officers make smart choices to enhance their careers and to establish solid credentials and experience needed for promotion. But these administrative career planning tools have no applicability during combat.

A submarine and its crew are not a "career path." We do not fight wars with "career paths." Battles, whether at sea, on land, or in the air, are not fought by "career paths." Battles are fought by flesh and blood people – people who are willing to fight and possibly die to protect our country, our families, and our way of life.

Commanding officers do not consider "career paths" when they take their ships to battle stations. Submarine COs do not give a second's worth of consideration to career management and administration when they are involved in tracking or attacking an enemy submarine, launching cruise missiles, or when ordered to launch one or all of the nuclear tipped missiles carried on board. Submarine commanders need well-trained personnel, able to apply themselves to the task of fighting the ship without the unnecessary distractions that are inherent in a mixed-crew ship.

The case against women in submarines has nothing to do with sexism, "white male bastions", or women's capabilities. The opposition to assigning women to submarines is based on history and common sense, and driven by the desire to do what is best for the Navy and its sailors. Assigning women to submarines does absolutely nothing to enhance combat readiness, but could do irreparable harm to the Navy's contribution to the defense of our country by unnecessarily complicating an already difficult job. The destruction of unit cohesion, team work, and crew morale is too steep a price to pay for some misguided notion of "career path" fairness. The function of a submarine is to defend our nation, not to provide a career path for women.

In this 100th anniversary year of the submarine force, we should reflect on the fact that the success of our submarines is directly related to the dedication and professionalism of our sailors. That success is not a result of the interference of liberal anti-military social engineering.

We owe our sailors the best we can reasonably give them. We expect them to protect us, to fight for us, and even to die for us. The sailors who are willing to do that deserve more than just a "career path."

© 2000 Charles Bloomer. Mr. Bloomer is a retired US Navy submarine officer. He can be contacted at

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