WOMEN are to be allowed to serve in Royal Navy submarines for the first time, the defence secretary announced today.
Philip Hammond said that the armed forces shouldn’t be ‘slaves to tradition’ and had accepted proposals for the change in policy.
It comes after The News revealed in September that women would at last be allowed to serve beneath the waves.
In his first major speech since taking over from Liam Fox in October, Mr Hammond told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank: ‘I can announce today that I have accepted the recommendation of the first sea lord that women should be allowed to serve in submarines in the future.’
He said female officers will serve on the Vanguard submarines from late in 2013, followed by ratings in 2015.
Women officers and ratings will also be able to serve on the Astute class submarines from about 2016, said Mr Hammond.
The equality issue had been under review at the MoD for more than two years.
For many years, defence chiefs banned women from submarines due to supposed health risks.
But research carried out earlier this year at the Gosport-based Institute of Naval Medicine found levels of carbon dioxide on subs are suitable for both males and females – forcing the change in policy.
As much as the push for female submariners was an equality issue, another factor was the fact men can earn thousands of pounds per year in danger money for serving in submarines.
Submariners earn up to £26.66 a day on top of their wages, which can rise by a further £20.60 per day if they are on a nuclear submarine – boosting some men’s wages by an extra £17,250 a year.
Women were first allowed to serve in warships in 1993.
Initial fears of sex scandals largely failed to materialise and 3,700 females now serve in the navy, which represents one in eight sailors.
The MoD conducted an equality review in 2009 following pressure from a Labour government eager to introduce full equal opportunities for females in the armed forces.
That review refused women the right to serve in submarines on the basis of the cramped living conditions on board and concerns over the dangers posed by fumes inside the submarine to a foetus if a woman is pregnant.
But a new review, which began last year, found women who are not pregnant would not suffer any more health implications than men – as reported in The News last September.
The MoD confirmed pregnant women will still be banned from serving in submarines because the researchers said unborn babies could be exposed to harmful gases.
But by finally allowing non-pregnant women to serve in submarines, the Royal Navy is following in the footsteps of the US Navy, Australian, Canadian, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian navies.