I thought this article would gin up a lot of conversation. Having served on boats for a lot of years, I can say with authority that this is the worst idea ever. ADM Roughhead: Take your new SecNav with you on a couple of attack boat deployments and then come back and say, with a straight face, that this is still a good idea. Navy Set to Crew Subs with Female Sailors September 25, 2009 Military.com|by Christian Lowe Breaking with a tradition that spans more than half a century, the Navy is in the final planning stages to integrate female Sailors into its submarine fleet. Long considered one of the most elite communities in the U.S. Navy, the small, secretive force has been comprised entirely of male officers and crew in large part because of the small living spaces and long endurance missions. The service had examined assigning a small number of females on subs over the last ten years, but found the tight confines and lack of a well-defined career path for female submariners too daunting to change. Until now. "Having commanded a mixed gender surface combatant, I am very comfortable addressing integrating women into the submarine force," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead in a statement to Military.com. "I am familiar with the issues as well as the value of diverse crews." "This has had and will continue to have my personal attention as we work toward increasing the diversity of our Navy afloat and ashore," he added. According to a senior commander in the Navy's submarine fleet who spoke to Military.com on condition of anonymity, incoming Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has charged the service with overcoming past objections and assigning females to subs -- breaking down one of the last barriers in the service to female assignments. "We have now received a signal from the secretary of the Navy that he's ready to move out on this. We have never had that signal before," the senior sub commander said. "So now it's time to do some detailed planning to ensure that this is executable." Poll: Should female Sailors be on subs? The official said the submarine fleet would likely not see female crewmembers for at least two years, but he said it was a change whose time had come. "There is no job on a submarine that a woman can't do," the official said during a Sept. 25 phone interview. "We have a vast pool of very talented young women out there who want to serve on submarines." The official agreed to speak with Military.com after reports indicated that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman -- and former Chief of Naval Operations -- Adm. Mike Mullen told lawmakers he was pushing the service to lift the ban on women in the so-called "silent service." One of the biggest obstacles to the integration is technical -- how can the Navy make accommodations on such small vessels for female crew, such as separate heads and bunks? The official said integrating females into the ballistic missile submarine fleet would be less of a challenge than on the attack sub fleet, where he said "we really don't have much room to store the toilet paper much less make up a new bathroom" for female crew. It's likely that the first female submariners will be officers and that they will be assigned to the larger, ballistic missile submarines, or "boomers." The officer accommodations on subs include two- and three-man staterooms and a shared head that could easily be made unisex, the official said. "The plan for officers involves no physical changes to the ships," the official said, adding that rough estimates of changes for enlisted crew on ballistic missile subs and cruise missile subs run below $10 million per ship. The official estimates assigning as many as five female officers per sub. With the enlisted cadre, it's a much more difficult proposition. Not only is there the amount of physical space to consider, but also the career paths and non-commissioned officer leadership to build, the official said. Navy officials agree that females must be at least 20 percent of the sub's crew -- meaning 20 women on an attack sub, for example -- so that the women don't feel isolated and have "mutual support" from Sailors of the same gender. Sub fleet leaders also want to make sure there are enough qualified chief petty officers to lead and mentor those female crewmembers. "Eventually [the Navy] will need to retain enough of the women coming in so that they can eventually provide that leadership," the Navy official said. "We need to have a program and a plan in place that is self-sustaining [and] not always dependent on the surface fleet to get petty officers and officers." But perhaps the biggest challenge to integrating women into the submarine fleet is cultural. For decades a male-dominated community whose long-endurance missions and distance from logistical support make living and working on a submarine a sometimes dirty job with little privacy (attack submarine crew share bunks when not on duty), the idea of placing women in such close confines worries both veteran submariners and spouses who fear distraction from the job or infidelity. "The idea is likely to be unpopular with some traditionalist submariners, who long have believed that the lack of any physical and mental privacy whatsoever and the claustrophobic confines make the idea unworkable," said Joe Buff, a noted expert on submarine warfare, novelist, and Military.com contributor. "Some wives of submariners have also expressed concern over fraternization, which has at times been an issue in the surface Navy and on diesel subs of other nations that have had co-ed crews." No matter the rumblings within the fleet and from vets and spouses, SecNav Mabus told Military.com in a statement his service is "moving out aggressively on this." "I believe women should have every opportunity to serve at sea, and that includes aboard submarines," he added.