Women to be allowed to serve on Royal Navy submarines

Submariners check missiles on HMS Astute Women will soon be joining men on board Royal Navy submarines

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Women are to be allowed to serve on Royal Navy submarines, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has confirmed.

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.

Women had been excluded from subs because of health concerns about carbon dioxide but recent research suggests the fears are "unfounded".

Last year the US Navy lifted a ban on women submariners.

Women have been serving on Royal Navy ships since 1990 and around 9% of Royal Navy personnel are female - totalling 3,420 officers and ratings.

Submarines are on constant patrol and often spend months at a time at sea.

Last year the Daily Mail claimed there were fears of sex scandals if women were allowed to serve on subs and many navy wives are not expected to welcome the idea.

The navy was hit by a string of scandals after Wrens were allowed to go to sea in 1990, before the stories died away.

Analysis

Allowing women to serve aboard submarines is not just about opening opportunities and ending discrimination.

It has not always been easy for the Royal Navy to find volunteers willing to spend months under the sea, in confined conditions and with little contact with the outside world.

There is additional pay for submariners - starting at an extra 12 pounds a day for junior ratings. But even that's not enough to persuade everyone that the isolation's worthwhile.

There are also many practical problems with accommodating women.

On the older Trafalgar class submarines men still "hot bunk" - sharing a bed with someone on a different shift.

So women will only be able to serve on board the four larger boats that carry Britain's nuclear deterrent and the latest Astute class submarines. At least here they will be able to have their own sleeping quarters, toilets and showers.

Enforcing the Royal Navy's "no touching" rule for mixed crews might be harder, given the limited confines of a submarine.

'Range of talent'

The decision to follow the US Navy, announced on Thursday by Mr Hammond, comes after an 18-month review by the navy into the "legal, operational, health, social, technical, and financial issues".

In a statement the Ministry of Defence said: "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.

"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."

Mr Hammond said: "I am pleased that women will now have the same opportunity to serve on board our submarines, carrying out vital tasks maintaining Britain's defences around the clock, across the world.

"The Royal Navy has always been at the forefront of innovation, and this decision represents another step in its distinguished tradition of recognising the contribution of its people and making the very best use of the talent from which it can recruit."

The Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Charles Montgomery, said: "This carefully considered decision will allow the Submarine Service to draw on the widest range of talent and skills of our people - those in service and those yet to join.

"It will therefore enable us to further consolidate our operational success. And it will give our women the same opportunities as men to enjoy a fulfilling and rewarding career in the Submarine Service."

It is not clear if the subs will have to be adapted to welcome women.

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