The Pentagon has moved to lift a decades-old policy that prohibits women from serving aboard Navy submarines, part of a gradual reconsideration of women's roles in a military fighting two wars whose front lines can be anywhere.
At issue is the end of a policy that kept women from serving aboard the last type of ship off-limits to them. The thinking was that the close quarters aboard subs would make coed service difficult to manage.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates notified Congress in a letter signed Friday that the Navy intends to repeal the ban on women sailors on subs. Congress has 30 days to weigh in.
"He supports the Navy's efforts to change their policy," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Tuesday.
Physical changes would be made
A defense official told The Associated Press that numerous physical changes to submarines would have to be made, but that cadets who graduate from the Naval Academy this year could be among the first Navy women to take submarine posts.
The change was first reported by ABC News.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress has not yet had a chance to consider the Navy's recommendations.
The Navy's plan would phase in women's service, beginning with officers aboard the larger subs that are easier to retrofit for coed quarters. Women would never serve solo.
Because of the length of time required for training, it would be more than a year before the first women joined subs, assuming Congress raises no major objections that slow the schedule.
Women began serving aboard the Navy's surface ships in 1993.
Since then, many of the distinctions between who is in combat and who is not have been erased.
Women are formally banned from combat posts in the Army, for instance, but routinely serve in jobs such as medics, pilots and drivers that place them shoulder to shoulder with men serving in "combat" jobs.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told Congress on Tuesday that he supports a reconsideration of women's combat roles.
"I believe it's time that we take a look at what women are actually doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then we take a look at our policies," Casey told the Senate Armed Services Committee. While no organized effort is under way, "I think it's time," he added.