First US mixed-gender crew build nuclear attack sub begins tests

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Recently, the US Navy began testing on the New Jersey SSN-796, a Virginia-class multipurpose nuclear submarine, according to the manufacturer, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII]’s press service.  

Photo credit: HII

However, the SSN-796 isn’t just a typical submarine. On paper, its performance metrics may be similar to other Virginia-class submarines, but the SSN-796 is in fact the first nuclear submarine to be designed with a co-ed crew in mind. 

It’s not uncommon today to find women serving on submarines. However, the work environments they typically find themselves in were originally designed for all-male crews. BulgarianMilitary.com notes that it was only a decade ago, in 2010 when the US lifted restrictions on women serving on submarines. Currently, over a hundred female officers and sailors form part of the crew on US submarines.

The new SSN-796

The USS New Jersey SSN-796, an innovative submarine, is equipped with separate bathrooms, showers, and sleeping quarters specifically designed for a mixed-gender crew. In a considerate upgrade, ladders have been attached to three-tiered bunks, making them easily accessible for women to climb to the second and third tiers. Additionally, a comprehensive refresh has taken place with all signs and displays undergoing replacement. 

Furthermore, the US Navy Command is taking decisive steps towards promoting gender equality. It aims to revise certain job titles and specialties that currently include the term ‘human,’ considering a gender-neutral approach during the renaming process. 

Photo credit: Twitter

However, the defining element that makes the SSN-796 suitable for a mixed-gender crew isn’t limited to the layout of cabins or facilities or sleeping bunks. Historically, submarines were designed with control systems intended for male crew members. This vessel heralds a thoughtful design change – the control systems have been positioned lower than usual, making them accessible for women. Moreover, the strength required to navigate has been calibrated to accommodate the physical capabilities of a mixed-gender crew.

Before 2010

The prohibition of women serving on submarines in the United States persisted until 2010. This was primarily due to a mix of traditional gender roles, concerns about privacy, and the physical design of submarines. The U.S. Navy, similar to many other military institutions, was historically male-dominated. It took a considerable amount of time to challenge and change these ingrained norms. 

Traditional gender roles played a significant part in this prohibition. The submarine service was often perceived as a ‘man’s world,’ where the physical and mental demands of the job were considered unsuitable for women. This belief was deeply rooted in societal norms and stereotypes about the roles and capabilities of men and women, making them slow to alter. 

Photo by Kelsey J. Hockenberger

Privacy was another major concern. Submarines are confined spaces where crew members live in close quarters for extended periods. The integration of women into this environment sparked concerns about maintaining privacy and preventing fraternization. The Navy worried about accommodating mixed-gender crews in such tight quarters without compromising the operational efficiency of the submarine. 

The physical design of submarines was another factor that contributed to the prohibition. Submarines were not designed with gender integration in mind. The lack of separate sleeping and bathroom facilities presented a logistical challenge to incorporating women into submarine crews. Retrofitting submarines to accommodate mixed-gender crews was seen as a costly and complex task. 

Nonetheless, these hurdles were eventually overcome. The U.S. Navy recognized the invaluable contributions women could make to the submarine service and began to challenge outdated stereotypes. They also devised strategies to handle privacy concerns and made alterations to submarine designs to accommodate mixed-gender crews. The prohibition was finally lifted in 2010, allowing women to serve on submarines.

Photo by Ashley Cowan

Fast attack submarine

The USS New Jersey [SSN-796] is a Virginia-class submarine belonging to the United States Navy. It’s part of the Block IV submarines, which are ingeniously designed to reduce total lifecycle costs. By limiting the time spent on maintenance and repairs, these vessels prove to be far more cost-effective. 

The Virginia-class submarines are nuclear-powered fast-attack vessels. Excelling in versatility, they’re designed to perform a wide array of open-ocean and littoral missions. Their operational capabilities span across anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike warfare, special forces support, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. 

Photo by Ashley Cowan

Like its Virginia-class counterparts, the USS New Jersey boasts a length of 377 feet and a beam of 34 feet. When submerged, it displaces approximate 7,800 tons. The hull is built with high-yield, special tensile steel, enabling it to withstand the intense pressure of deep-sea environments.

New systems

The submarine is equipped with an S9G nuclear reactor for propulsion. This reactor is designed to operate for 33 years without refueling. The propulsion system also includes a pump-jet propulsor, as opposed to a traditional propeller, which significantly reduces the acoustic signature of the submarine. 

The armament of the USS New Jersey includes 12 vertical launch system [VLS] tubes and four horizontal torpedo tubes. The VLS tubes can house Tomahawk cruise missiles for land-attack missions. The horizontal torpedo tubes are typically loaded with Mark 48 Advanced Capability [ADCAP] torpedoes for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. 

Additionally, the USS New Jersey features advanced sonar systems, including a spherical sonar array in the bow and high-frequency sonar arrays on the flank and sail. These systems provide the submarine with superior undersea warfare capabilities.

Modular construction

Furthermore, the submarine is equipped with a state-of-the-art command-and-control system. This system enhances the submarine’s capabilities to perform critical missions, communicate with forces ashore, and integrate with other naval assets. 

Lastly, the USS New Jersey, like other Virginia-class submarines, is designed with modular construction. This allows sections of the submarine to be replaced or upgraded as technology and mission requirements evolve, ensuring the vessel remains at the forefront of naval capabilities.

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