The Navy's top officer said the service will push ahead with putting women on combat ships but said he was doubtful they would be on submarines in the near future.
Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, was asked after an address at the Naval Institute's annual meeting in Annapolis about the timetable for integrating women into combat posts.
"Which direction are we going? The answer to that is one word: forward," Johnson said. "We're very proud of the integration of women in our Navy."
Johnson said about 94 percent of all positions in the Navy are "gender-neutral."
"We like that it's the right thing to do," said Johnson, a 1968 Naval Academy graduate. "We're a little over halfway through about a six-year plan to fully integrate the surface combatant forces of the Navy."
Johnson noted that a fully integrated battle group led by the USS Kittyhawk just returned from a "wonderful" six-month deployment to the Arabian Gulf.
Still, Johnson said two Navy "specialty fields" are not open to women -- submarines and SEALS, the Navy's special forces unit -- and would be unlikely to accept women in the foreseeable future. "Quite frankly, we're not there yet. And to be very honest with you, I don't know if we'll be there in the near term," he said.
Each year, the Navy studies placing women on submarines and reports to top Navy officials, a Navy spokesman said.
There is opposition to women in combat posts, with critics pointing to the moral question of whether women should be involved in combat and others saying the elevated pregnancy rates of women serving aboard combat ships could affect readiness.
Retired Rear Adm. Ned Hogan, an academy graduate and former carrier commander, pointed to the writings of former Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr., who has opposed women in combat roles and taken Navy leaders to task for failing to stand up for its male-dominated military culture. "Should we be putting women in combat?" Hogan asked Johnson.
Johnson said that while he respects Webb, "I've described where the Navy stands with the integration of women. I'm very comfortable with that. I make no apologies. It's the right thing to do. It makes sense for us."
Pub Date: 4/24/97