Charleston, Navy prepare for sea change as female enlisted sailors serve on subs

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine Rhode Island returns to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia following routine operations in this December 2014 file photo.

The Navy is opening the path for enlisted female sailors to serve on submarines — a move that’s expected to have an impact on the Charleston area where instruction for nuclear service is done at the training center in Goose Creek.

“We are the most capable submarine force in the world,” Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander of the fleet’s submarine forces, said in a statement released Wednesday announcing the various aspects of the change.

The Navy reversed its males-only policy on submarines in 2010, allowing female officers to serve at sea. Connor said the integration of female enlisted sailors is “a natural next step.” The plan was first submitted last summer.

“While we have superb technology, the ultimate key to our success is our people,” Connor added. “In order to continue to improve and adapt in a rapidly changing world, we need to ensure that we continue to recruit and retain the most talented sailors.”

He continued, “Today, many of the people who have the technical and leadership skills to succeed in the submarine Force are women.”

The plan includes opening all submarine ratings and enlisted classification codes to enlisted women in fiscal year 2015.

There would be a two-phase integration onboard Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines and Ohio-class guided-missile submarines, and the Virginia-class attack submarines. The enlisted women would serve onboard submarines as soon as 2016.

About 50 female officers have so far been integrated into crews assigned to both types of the Ohio-class subs, according to media reports.

Locally, Navy personnel are trained in the operation of nuclear reactors and nuclear propulsion at the Navy facility in Goose Creek.

Prospective enlisted women who volunteer to serve in the nuclear enlisted ratings will be required to receive that training at the Navy’s Nuclear Power Training Command here before being assigned to the fleet, the Navy said.

A Navy spokeswoman said Thursday that the integration of female enlisted sailors in submarines would have a minimal impact to nuclear training operations in Charleston.

“Female enlisted sailors have already been training at Nuclear Power School and the Nuclear Power Training Unit in Charleston in preparation for duty on aircraft carriers,” said spokeswoman Olivia Volkoff.

“The only change to training in Charleston due to the integration of female enlisted sailors in submarines will be that the female students who successfully complete the training will now have two options to choose from: aircraft carrier or submarine duty.”

Charleston Naval Base in North Charleston was once among the Navy’s largest home ports, including a large number of submarines and surface ships. The base and shipyard were ordered closed in 1993 and ceased operations in 1996.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551

(This story was updated Thursday, Jan. 22 to include comments from a Navy spokeswoman.)