Page last updated at 17:18 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 18:18 UK

US navy lifts ban on women submariners

USS New Mexico commissioned, March 2010
Women have served on surface ships since the mid-1990s

Women can now serve on US submarines, after a ban was lifted.

The US defence department had announced the move in February and the deadline for any objection from Congress passed at midnight on Wednesday.

Training women for their new duties and the creation of appropriate quarters mean it could be more than a year before women take up their posts.

The cramped conditions had previously precluded women, despite serving alongside men on surface ships.

About 15% of US navy personnel are women.

Training course

Defence Secretary Robert Gates had given Congress notice that the ban would end unless it objected and that deadline passed at midnight on Wednesday.

BBC's Adam Brookes
Adam Brookes, BBC News, Washington
Admirers of the United States military often describe it as a progressive organisation.

On the gender front, however, submariners have been hold-outs. Female sailors on submarines, some have argued, will compromise missions when they become pregnant, will complicate the already fragile social ecosystem of the submarine, and will add stress to wives ashore.

Senior military officers seem confident these grumbles will disappear, and soon women will be accepted aboard the way they are on aircraft carriers and in the cockpit of combat aircraft.

This change is one small part of a broader transformation of attitudes in the US military, a transformation which reflects changes in US society as a whole towards race, gender, class and sexuality.

The Navy may find its plan to ban smoking aboard submarines meets tougher resistance than its plan to allow women to serve in the dark, silent depths.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a statement: "There are extremely capable women in the navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force.

"We literally could not run the navy without women today."

The first women submariners are likely to be aboard ballistic and guided-missile submarines as they have more living space and will not require alterations.

However, there is a 15-month submarine officer training course.

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm Gary Roughead, said: "It would be foolish to not take the great talent, the great confidence and intellect of the young women who serve in our navy today and bring that into our submarine force."

The US navy has also announced another key change to service requirements.

As of 31 December, smoking will no longer be allowed on submarines.

There are estimated to be more than 5,000 submariner smokers but they will be expected to fall in line with the general ban on indoor smoking the military imposed in 1993.

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China Post U.S. Navy to allow women to serve aboard submarines - 9 hrs ago
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