NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- Re-thinking the Navy of tomorrow. Specifically, how to incorporate women on platforms like submarines that were designed solely for men.
From the time the Navy commissioned its first submarine in 1900, through the decades, the undersea naval domain had largely been a men-only endeavor.
That started to change in 2011, with the first women officers assigned to subs, then in 2015, with enlisted women. There are now about 130 of them in all.
The problem was the subs themselves--the Los Angeles, Virginia and Ohio class. They're extremely close quarters down there--especially in the berthing compartments where sailors sleep.
"The sailors on board those vessels, both men and women, they have a very difficult job," said Old Dominion University assistant professor of Engineering Jenny Michaeli. "And they're protecting our country. So the engineers that are tasked with designing those vessels are going to be doing their best job to make sure that they streamline the functionality of the systems, and making it less fatiguing to the sailors."
Michaeli is director of ODU's Naval Engineering and Marine Sciences Institute.
She joined the ODU engineering faculty in 2012 after 15 years as a naval engineer in government and industry.
Michaeli says engineers and shipbuilders have been fitting equipment to the users for many years in a science known as human systems integration.
"It's really about as engineers, as designers, thinking about how we would design a system so that it suits the human that's interfacing with it," she said.
Michaeli says redesigned Virginia class, and the new Ohio replacement/ Columbia class of submarines, will be much more friendly to women sailors.
"The berthing spaces will be designed to accommodate female and male sailors. of course the head spaces," she said. "And of course, various aspects of systems integration will include body sizes of men and women."
The first vessel built with some of the new features, the future Virginia-class sub New Jersey, is expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2021.
© 2017 WVEC-TV