Congress is gearing up to weigh in on the Pentagon's plans to allow women to serve on submarines, a contentious decision that overturns a decades-old policy that has prohibited the mixing of the sexes in the claustrophobic confines of the U.S. Navy's undersea fleet.
The House and Senate have 30 legislative days to consider the proposal from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, which would likely take at least a year to go into effect after women volunteers complete training for submarine duty for the first time.
Some members of Congress have already come out in support of the proposal, which they say will bring a new measure of equality to the military.
"I strongly support the Navy's decision to integrate women into our submarines forces," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower.
"We want the best and brightest on board our submarines," he said Wednesday. "Female sailors are already serving, and in some cases commanding, every other type of naval ship. Attitudes toward women serving in the military have changed and our policies must change too."
Gates already has the backing of top military brass, including Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But some Navy veterans have begun speaking out in opposition to the plan.
"My feeling is, as long as the Navy can man them with men, you shouldn't go looking for women to man subs," said retired Vice Adm. Kenneth Carr, the former commander of the Atlantic submarine force, in an interview with The Day of Connecticut.
"Why spend the money to make all the modifications to the submarines and create all the conversations and arguments?"
The Navy's plan would phase in women's service, beginning with officers aboard the larger subs that are easier to retrofit for male and female quarters. Women would never serve solo.
Because of the length of time required for training, it would be more than a year before the first women joined subs, assuming Congress raises no major objections that slow the schedule.
Women began serving aboard the Navy's surface ships in 1993.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.