Sailors train two female midshipmen who in June 2012 were conducting their summer cruise aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine Michigan. Enlisted women are expected to start serving on submarines in 2016. (Lt. Lara Bollinger / Navy)
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The silent service aims to begin a final phase of its historic integration effort in 2016, when enlisted women could begin serving aboard submarines.
The sub force’s top officer announced that goal Wednesday to continue the steady integration of women across the Navy, a top priority of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
“It’s our every intent to meet the guidance of the secretary of the Navy to do that if practical in 2016,” said Vice Adm. Mike Connor, responding to a question about integration at the Naval Submarine League conference in Falls Church, Va.
Officials are studying the steps forward, as the integration of enlisted ranks will be more complicated than that for officers, who share staterooms in small numbers and can come aboard in smaller groups.
Connor said Rear Adm. Ken Perry, the head of Submarine Group 2, is leading a study of which subs should get enlisted women and the modifications that will be required.
“It gets a little more complicated to do the berthing arrangements, and that affects some choices we’ll have to make, but [we’ll] keep marching down that in a very deliberate manner,” Connor told the audience of admirals, retired submariners, contractors, officers and sailors.
The question was asked by retired Vice Adm. John Donnelly who, as head of SUBFOR, oversaw the selection, training and integration of the first female submariners three years ago.
The 2016 goal is the first mention of a timeline for female blue shirts in the sub force, but it has long been a priority for Navy leadership. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said volunteers would be needed, adding the most likely place to get more experienced female sailors was from the ranks of already nuclear-trained operators who run reactors on aircraft carriers.
This builds on the integration of the attack sub fleet, the last all-male portion of the undersea force, which is now set for 2014 and 2015, when female officers report for duty aboard four Virginia-class attack subs.
While officials did not say where female enlisted would first serve, it is most likely to be the boomer and guided missile fleet, which are larger than Los Angeles-class attack boats and already have 43 female officers to serve as mentors; the force first integrated in late 2011.