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article imageService below the surface — Women to operate on UK submarines

By Andrew John     Dec 9, 2011 in World
Female naval officers and ratings in the UK will soon be following their United States counterparts, when they’re allowed to serve on Royal Navy submarines.
They have not been permitted to serve on subs until now because of health fears – now said to be unfounded – concerning carbon dioxide.
According to the BBC, “The first women officers will begin serving on Vanguard-class nuclear subs in late 2013. They will be followed by female ratings in 2015, when women should also begin serving on the new Astute-class subs.”
The USA lifted its ban on female submariners last year.
The Department of Defense made its announcement in February last year, with the deadline for objections from Congress passing in April
In the UK, health fears have not been the only things influencing decisions on women’s service below the surface, according to a story last year in the Daily Mail, which claimed there were fears of possible sex scandals.
It said that some Navy bosses “are concerned that a small number of females living in close quarters with male sailors will lead to an inevitable breaking of ‘no touching’ rules.”
Social, technical and health considerations
The review was ordered by the British government after pressures from senior figures in the then ruling Labour Party, who wanted to see equality among servicemen and -women.
Women have served on British ships since 1990, and, according to the BBC, “around 9% of Royal Navy personnel are female – totalling 3,420 officers and ratings.”
The review looked into social, technical, health, legal, operational and financial considerations of allowing women to serve in subs.
The Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “Women had previously been excluded from submariner roles due to concerns about higher levels of carbon dioxide in submarine atmosphere carrying risks to female health.
Operational effectiveness
“But recent research by the Institute of Naval Medicine showed that these risks were unfounded and that there were no medical reasons for excluding women from service in submarines.”
The news of the change of heart was confirmed by the UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.
He said in a keynote speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London: “Operational effectiveness has to remain the watchword for everything we do and we will continue to learn from our experience.
“We will change and adapt with the evidence and the circumstances. We will value our history and tradition – but we will not be slaves to them. In that spirit, I can announce today that I have accepted the recommendation of the First Sea Lord that women should be allowed to serve in submarines in the future.”
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