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UK welcomes women submariners: reason and impact?

Contributed by Richard de Silva

This week, the UK Ministry of Defence gave the all-clear on allowing female officers to serve aboard its Royal Navy submarines in a change that will be implemented from 2013.

Officially, the reason behind the blockade stemmed from a belief that higher levels of carbon dioxide on the vessels carried much greater health risks for women. This conclusion has now been overruled after research conducted by the Institute of Naval Medicine.

Vanguard-class subs will be the first to benefit from women submariners

While this development has been hailed a triumph for equality by some – and one of scientific reason by others – the decision brings into question the real reason behind the u-turn, as well as the real reason behind the initial ban.

It is far from a state secret that the MoD is struggling to control its budget and remain operational. Every service – Army, Navy, and Air Force – has suffered deep cuts to personnel numbers and platform acquisition. A shift that allows women officers to take to the underwater battlespace is undeniably helpful in spreading fewer resources to cover more ground – reflecting the SDSR’s “more with less” ethos.

At the same time, new Defence Minister Philip Hammond will be revelling in the opportunity to mark his stamp on the role, placing a positive emphasis on his ministry at a time when it has been blighted with dark cloud headlines. As Liam Fox learned to his detriment, there is no UOR contract available for good PR.

At the same time, it is a worrying thought that bans such as this could be made without proper research or justification. Either MoD decision-makers have been guilty of complacency, or they are guilty of jeopardising operations in efforts to avoid potential scandal. Should there now be an enquiry into all similar restrictions?

One year ago, the US Navy made the same amendment to its rulebook, following on the heels ofNorway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Canada and Spain, all of which permitted female submariners at some point between 1985 to present.

However, serving British female soldiers still remain barred from close-combat frontline duties. Will we see this decision also overturned in light of dwindling infantry numbers and a few more months of news tickers berating MoD failings?

Mr. Hammond will be sure to let us know.

In the meantime, Defence IQ welcomes your thoughts.

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