French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks Tuesday at the Ecole Militaire in Paris after receiving a report on harassment and sexual violence in the French military. (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/Agence France-Presse)
PARIS — The French Navy plans to send three women officers to sail in the ballistic missile submarine fleet, a first for the French service, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said April 15.
“The Navy chief of staff has decided on a trial basis to assign three women officers to a crew on the ballistic missile submarine fleet from 2017, following a selection of volunteers this year and after a training course starting in 2015,” Le Drian said in a speech on women’s equality and a fight against harassment in the military services.
Le Drian made his remarks as he set out a plan to act against sexual harassment in the services. The approach will be “zero tolerance,” and is based on an official report the minister commissioned last month in response to a book, “The Invisible War,” which set out the difficulties encountered by women in the French armed forces.
While women entered the Navy college relatively recently in 1992, they now account for almost 14 percent of staff in the service, he said.
A posting of women to the submarine fleet reflects the Navy chief’s commitment to raising the level of female personnel while broadening the operational aspects, he said.
Concerns over health and personal security rather than discrimination lay behind the previous policy that avoided assigning women to submarines, Le Drian said. Posting women to the undersea fleet requires attention to the accommodations, detailed studies and a strong will, which the service has undertaken.
“This trial exercise, which is highly symbolic, allows laying down the foundation for a long-term crewing of women on French submarines,” Le Drian said.
The French decision follows in the wake of the US and British navies, which respectively assigned women to their submarines in 2010 and 2011, afternoon daily newspaper Le Monde reported.
Almost 60,000 women work in the French defense sphere, comprising 40 percent of the civilian side and 15 percent of the military side, Le Drian said.
The French armed forces have one of the highest levels of female staffing, compared with the British and German services, “which only respectively have 10 percent and 9 percent women in their ranks,” he said.
“For each and every one of us, that is a great source of pride,” he said.
The French Navy’s nuclear missile submarine fleet has four boats of the Triomphant class, each designed to carry 16 M51 strategic missiles.