Every submarine in the U.S. fleet was designed with the height, reach and strength of men in mind, from the way valves are placed to 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 are also 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 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 now 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 also 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.
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