USS Minnesota in 2013.
Enlisted female sailors will join female officers by joining the submarine branch. U.S. Navy

One of the last all-male institutions in the U.S. armed forces is changing its policies. The U.S. Navy will immediately begin allowing female enlisted sailors to sign up for service onboard submarines, according to a U.S. Navy statement on Wednesday. The move, which was formally approved in December, follows the successful integration of female officers onto submarines more than two years ago.

"We are the most capable submarine force in the world," said Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander, submarine forces. "While we have superb technology, the ultimate key to our success is our people. In order to continue to improve and adapt in a rapidly changing world, we need to ensure that we continue to recruit and retain the most talented sailors. Today, many of the people who have the technical and leadership skills to succeed in the submarine force are women.”

While many positions in the Navy have been traditionally male-only, Congress was notified in 1994 that a change of policy would allow most Navy positions to be offered to women. However, service on submarines was not considered until 2010 when then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates informed Congress that the Department of the Navy would formally look into the possibility.

The first female officers to serve on submarines qualified in December 2012, and the first woman to qualify for service on a fast-attack submarine recently joined the USS Minnesota after qualifying as a submariner in May 2014. Two more female officers will report for duty on the same sub by the end of this month. Three more will join the USS Virginia in the spring, said Lt. Cmdr. Tommy Crosby, a spokesman for the Navy’s Submarine Force Atlantic.

The full integration of women from the enlisted ranks will begin in fiscal year 2016 after the required training process is completed, said Rear Adm. Charles A. "Chas" Richard, commander, Submarine Group 10 and leader of the Women in Submarines Task Force.