Navy starts to make sub­marines with fe­male sailors in mind

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY JEN­NIFER MCDER­MOTT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. | Every sub­ma­rine in the U.S. fleet was de­signed with the height, reach and strength of men in mind, in­clud­ing the way valves are placed and how dis­play screens are an­gled. That’s go­ing to change.

With women now serv­ing aboard sub­marines, de­fense con­trac­tor Elec­tric Boat is de­sign­ing what will be the first Navy subs built specif­i­cally to ac­com­mo­date fe­male crew mem­bers.

The de­sign­ers are do­ing the ob­vi­ous things, such as adding more doors and wash­rooms to cre­ate sep­a­rate sleep­ing and bathing ar­eas for men and women and to give them more pri­vacy.

But they also are mak­ing more sub­tle mod­i­fi­ca­tions that may not have been in ev­ery­one’s periscope when the Navy ad­mit­ted women into the Si­lent Ser­vice.

For ex­am­ple, they are low­er­ing some over­head valves and mak­ing them eas­ier to turn, and in­stalling steps in front of the triple-high bunk beds and stacked laun­dry ma­chines.

The first ves­sel to be built with some of the new fea­tures, the fu­ture USS New Jersey, is ex­pected to be de­liv­ered to the Navy in 2021.

The Navy lifted its ban on women on sub­marines in 2010, start­ing with of­fi­cers. About 80 fe­male of­fi­cers and roughly 50 en­listed women are serv­ing on subs, and their num­bers are ex­pected to climb into the hun­dreds over the next few years.

For now, the Navy is retrofitting ex­ist­ing subs with ex­tra doors and des­ig­nated wash­rooms to ac­com­mo­date women.

But Elec­tric Boat in Gro­ton, Con­necti­cut, is at work on a re­design of the Navy’s Vir­ginia-class fast-at­tack subs and is de­vel­op­ing a brand-new class of bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines, re­ly­ing on body mea­sure­ments for both men and women.

“We have a clean sheet of paper, so from the ground up, we’ll op­ti­mize for both men and women,” said Brian Wil­son, Elec­tric Boat di­rec­tor of the new bal­lis­tic-mis­sile sub pro­gram.

Elec­tric Boat of­fi­cials had no im­me­di­ate es­ti­mate of how much the mod­i­fi­ca­tions will cost.

As any­one who watches war movies knows, sub­mariners are al­ways turn­ing valves, whether to op­er­ate ma­chin­ery, re­dis­tribute wa­ter be­tween tanks or iso­late part of a sys­tem that has been dam­aged.

On the Columbia-class boats, valves will gen­er­ally be placed lower, Mr. Wil­son said. Some­times there will be an ex­ten­sion han­dle, and some will be eas­ier to turn. Sailors will be able to connect their masks into the emer­gency air sys­tem at the side of pas­sage­ways, in­stead of over­head.

Emer­gency air masks are be­ing moved on fast-at­tack sub­marines, too, but the bulk of the changes on those subs are to en­sure pri­vacy.

Seats in the con­trol room on the bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines will ad­just for­ward a little more so ev­ery­one can touch each dis­play and reach every joy­stick. Steps will be added so shorter peo­ple can climb into the top bunk or see into the wash­ers and dry­ers be­cause cloth­ing that gets stuck in a ma­chine is a fire haz­ard.

The first Columbia-class bal­lis­ticmis­sile sub is sched­uled to join the fleet in 2031.

Aboard the guided-mis­sile USS Ge­or­gia, Petty Of­fi­cer 3rd Class DonPaul Mitchell trains Ens. Tabitha Stro­bel, one of the first women serv­ing on Navy sub­marines.

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