- Periodical, In Depth (Submarine Association of Australia) and Polmar, Norman
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1997 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
In the last issue, Vol. 17 No.4 (December 1996) we published an article, “Harmony at Sea”. There is ongoing debate in various foreign navies on the merits of whether women should serve in their submarines.
We present two further perspectives on this debate:
- US Navy – a detailed thoughtful analysis
- Russian Navy – a detailed analysis, though somewhat tongue-in-cheek
WOMEN IN SUBMARINES (US Navy)
The following article taken from the August 1995 issue of the US Naval Proceedings is printed by courtesy of “IN DEPTH”, the newsletter of the Submarine Association of Australia, December, 1995. The article is written by Captain Mark L. DEMBERT, Medical Corps. USN
A recent US Navy staff study recommends against assigning women to submarines, primarily because of the large projected expense for reconfiguring habitability. However, the cost issue may not be the most important. Other factors specifically policy, political, medical and psychological should be considered.
Policy issues include physical limitations for certain ratings; projected habitability constraints; lack of privacy; projected billeting requirements on submarines in the future; projected overall Navy manning requirements; and the extent to which physically and psychologically qualified males continue to volunteer for submarine duty.
Political issues include the competing interests and driving forces in and outside the Navy for looking at this issue; the role of women in combat; realistic potential for sexual harassment; the effects on submariner families; the development of women who are mothers; and a view of the submarine force as a `last bastion’ for Navy men.
Medical issues primarily revolve around pregnancy; deployability, diagnosis at sea and medicolegal aspects to fetal health in women submariners. With time and due consideration, these issues could possibly be resolved in favour of allowing women on submarines. However, it is the psychological factor that convincingly indicates that women could serve in submarines, but they shouldn’t.
An environmentally encapsulated submarine with both men and women would present far too much of a psychologically complex environment for a submarine officer’s training and role as commanding officer to manage.
To illustrate this point, I will compare a submarine environment that has men and women on board with a long term intensive outpatient psychotherapy group. Both groups, for instance, have a mission, a leader (therapist or commanding officer), and a preselected and required number of personnel (outpatient or crew). The leader of each group is responsible for selecting and ‘grooming’ personnel, maintaining full manning, deciding when certain individuals do not belong in the group, and removing such individuals if necessary to protect the mission. The leader must also shape the group through the mission and make that group function safely and effectively as a unit.
Just as outpatients have specific psychological reasons for joining the therapy group, Navy personnel have easily identifiable conscious reasons for wanting to serve on the submarine force, such as esteem, power, accomplishment, or the mental and physical challenge. They also have less identifiable unconscious motivations such as significant unresolved issues of attachment and loss from childhood, control and aggression, competitiveness and assertiveness, and narcissism and vulnerability.
The myriad of psychologies and underlying motivations of why men and women would want to serve on submarines are shaped by the organisational or group psychology fostered by the Navy, the submarine service in general and by the specific submarine (its mission and its legends). They are shaped by the subconscious desires by the men and women to join the Navy rather than other services, or not to enter the military and take a challenging – albeit less hazardous – civilian job. The unconscious reasons do not necessarily reflect psychopathology – what is wrong with the individual’s mind and motives – but should be considered healthy, and within the expectable range of motivations of all individuals who join the military service.
The group psychotherapist is trained to understand all these motivations and to recognise how some interactions between group members can lead to subtle or major impairments in their duties and at their commands. The group therapist is trained to intervene in such situations to prevent major problems from occurring and to do “damage control” for member’s lives in and outside the group. The submarine commanding officer, however, is not trained to do all of this. He is trained in leading a submarine, knowing the roles of his personnel and taking steps to resolve personnel crises and material casualties. He is not trained to:
- Understand the unconscious motives for those who join submarines.
- Understand the unconscious reasons of why and how men and women could successfully work together and relate to each other in close confines without acting out interpersonally or impairing their job or command missions.
- Understand and recognise situations when men and women in the crew unsuccessfully relate to each other and cause overt and covert problems.
- Know when and how to intervene, using knowledge of unconscious motives to resolve small or large crises before a mission is compromised. This is just too much to ask of any submarine commanding officer.
(Captain DEMBERT was submarine medical officer on both the USS GRAYBACK (SS-574) and USS BARBEL (SS-580). He is staff psychiatrist at the National Naval Medical Centre, Bethesda, Maryland).