Monday, June 20, 2005

Women Sub Sailors

Our good friend, Bubblehead, over at The Stupid Will Be Punished has an interesting picture link that begs the question "why not?"

John M. Brower wrote a substantive article in favor of ending "The Final (Underwater) Frontier" in 2002. Aussie subs (Collins class) have had female crew since 1998. In Sweden, women have served aboard subs for at least 13 years. Norway had its first female submarine commander, Solveig Krey, in 1995.

Otherwise, the coed U.S. space program would certainly have stood the Submarine Force on its head by now. Here's the problem, health standards restrict females of childbearing age to very low exposures to many common heavy metals now common on nuke submarines as well as to ionizing radiation levels. The nuclear submarine force has then just five options:

A- limit females to forward only duties, including cook. (we can imagine how that would go over)B- limit female submarine recruits to post-menopausal women (interesting)
C- return to AGSS-555 type diesel boats to accomodate flood of women volunteers
D- relax health standards for civilian women, too (politically untenable)
E- end protest, accept women sailors on nukes and incur high court-awards subsequently (my lawyer friends like this option best)

Interestingly, Brower mentions the four chief problems as: (1) crew pregnancy (all discussion of which was forbidden in the context ship preparedness (missing movement) by a former SecNav, (2) ablution, (3) bunking, and (4) posting -similar to (A).

He mentions none of the "high potential" problems (B)-(E).
Gentlemen and ladies, I ask you, are the Swedish neutral? Are Norwegian subs a force to be reckoned? How do Aussie subs accomodate muslim women sailors?


At 8:55 PM, Blogger Rob said...

A. Why only forward duties? I serve now ashore with female nukes (carrier types), and they are as competent as any male nuke (the two I know best are, in fact, top is a back-to-back command SOY and was recently NAVSEA's SOY).

B. Smacks of discrimination, and...why?

C. Just 'cause one volunteers doesn't mean they will be taken. My class through prototype had a lot more sub vols by virtue of folks not wanting to go to the Enterprise (if you didn't go subs, you went to the big, bad, long-ass-refueling E), and a lot of 'em got turned away to go surface (Enterprise) due to lack of billets.

D. Huh? Why would this need to be done?

E. Aside from the sexual harassment issues (which we'd be able to get around if us Americans were just a bit more mature as a society), what else would be litigious?

I personally don't care if they put women on subs (I often remark that it's worked well in Sonar Division, but that's just my inner smart-ass coming out). As an LPO my criteria for a Sailor is as follows:

-Be a good "sailor" (i.e., decent uniform, show up on time for work, do the "military stuff" right, etc.)
-Do your job
-Do your best
-Stay out of trouble
-Be honest
-Keep me "in the loop"
-Don't do stupid sh*t (the guys recently on the Pasadena who used camera cellphones to film dancing in steam suits/sleeping on watch/food in the ER come to mind)

If the Sailor doing the above is a man, fine. If it's a woman, fine. I frankly don't care if they are gay, just relieve the watch on time, don't make me back you into a corner to get your job done, and keep your nose clean.

It's all about being professional, and those who aren't (of any gender) can exit via the escape trunk. A bit of fun, some harmless horsing around, the "crossing the line" and such is all well and good, and can be done (in fact, is done) coed...why not on subs?

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Vigilis said...

Rob, don't disagree with you. I never brought up competence because it certainly is not at issue. On the reproductive health issue, however, there are well-established differences in allowable exposure levels between males and females of childbearing age (who could be pregnant at any moment). Navy doing it already on carriers, you say? Three possibilities come to mind: (1) Distances are greater (inverse square law) on carriers (2)contamination scrubdowns may be more effective than would be possible on subs, and (3) administratice controls may allow better surveillance (immediate self-reporting) of pregnancies. How would that work on a submerged, mission critical run?

In industry, known mutagenics and teragenics are hazards from which younger female workers are especially at risk and must be protected. We had to limit exposure to x-ray equipment and many chemicals. Physicians and lawyers recognize that the biology of females is different from males, including our friends in the Sonar Division. -LOL

At 10:49 PM, Blogger Rob said...

Aside from pregnancy (which, while there are allowances for exposure during pregnancy, it always gets the individual reassigned away from zoomies until birth) the limits are the same for both sexes, as are the procedures/processes with regards to decon, etc. Can't say about the "time/distance/shielding" issue, as I've never been on a CVN, but I am told the plants aren't that different...bigger, but not too different by design in terms of shielding and general arrangement. And the women serve at the prototypes, some of which are literally retired boomers.

The Navy's limits are so low that even "maxing out" in the Navy is pretty much harmless...and local control levels are even lower (by orders of magnitude) than Navy limits (which themselves are a fraction of what Federal law deems safe). The ladies (and Sonar girls) out sunbathing are probably in more danger.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger PigBoatSailor said...


Regarding women & rad health, particularly how we manage it on carriers:

(1) Distances are greater (inverse square law) on carriers (2)contamination scrubdowns may be more effective than would be possible on subs

As Rob said, from what I understand, the carrier plants aren't that much different, just a bit bigger. They do, however, have the same rad limits and stay time limits, and they still go through maintenance avails (where our crew, at least, got most of its exposure), and I can't imagine they offload the females for that, so I think 1) is not a factor.
From what I have heard (again, buddies on carriers, not personal experience, so caveat emptor), the big boys have some really dirty plants - enough to make our ELTs cry. Not only do they block off some adjacent spaces to Engineering due to zoomies (again, shielding not always the greatest - harder for such a big plant), but decon is a nightmare. So, 2) is probably not an issue here, either.

So, we know that we can allow women to work in our nuke plants at sea, and we know that at least 5 countries have managed to figure out how to get them to sea on subs (As Bubblehead said, and I added: Sweden, Norway, Australia, Germany, France). Granted, only France does both at the same time, and their rad standards may very well be different than ours. I would be fascinated to know what they would do with a suddenly pregnant sailor underway, though. I would say make her crank, and then offload when you can.

So what is left? Figuring out accomodations and adjusting our outlook. These two seem to go hand in hand - On much smaller, less comfortable subs, women have accomodations that they find acceptable. We, however, are -shocked- at anything that might possibly indiscreet. Frankly, we need to get over ourselves (and the women would have to, as well) if this were to happen. As a society, I don't know if we can, but as I said on the original post at Bubbleheads, I personally don't care. Just do your job.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Vigilis said...

PBS- Well said, thanks.


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