After tanks, IDF now trying out women in combat roles on navy warships
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After tanks, IDF now trying out women in combat roles on navy warships

In pilot program, six female recruits to train to operate intelligence-gathering equipment and weapons systems on Israel’s new Sa’ar 6-class corvettes

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Six female recruits for an Israeli Navy pilot program to see if women can serve on warships, at the navy's Haifa Base in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Six female recruits for an Israeli Navy pilot program to see if women can serve on warships, at the navy's Haifa Base in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military this month launched a pilot program to place female combat soldiers on navy warships, the army announced Wednesday.

Six women are taking part in the trial, in which they are training to serve on the Israel Navy’s new Sa’ar 6 corvettes, which are due to be delivered next year. Until the Sa’ar 6 ships are put into service, the female recruits will serve on the navy’s less advanced Sa’ar 5 corvettes.

Until now, female sailors have only been permitted to serve on smaller patrol boats, not the larger Sa’ar class.

Five of the trial participants began the navy’s basic training program last week at its Haifa Base in the northern port city. The sixth was chosen to participate after she had already enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and will therefore only join the pilot program after the rest of the recruits complete basic training, the army said.

The navy course comes months after the Armored Corps completed its own successful pilot program to test the viability of having women serve in tanks.

According to Lt. Col. Avi Avsker, who is responsible for training the soldiers who serve on warships, the two programs are unrelated, but do speak to a larger effort within the IDF to move away from gender-based considerations and toward “professional” considerations — whether or not a recruit can perform the tasks required by a given position, regardless of their sex.

Illustrative. Soldiers climb a rope on the Israeli Navy’s Haifa Base on June 19, 2013. (Israel Defense Forces)

The female recruits will go through basic training alongside the male recruits also bound for service aboard warships, while maintaining separate living quarters and bathrooms, as required by army protocols, Avsker said.

After basic training, the six female soldiers will be split into two tracks. One group will learn how to serve in the Sa’ar 6 corvette’s command and control centers, which supply information about what is going on in the seas surrounding the ship. The other will learn to operate the ships’ weapons systems.

Upon completing their training, in which they will both practice on simulators and spend time on actual ships, the recruits will receive the status of lochem hod, or spearhead soldier, the highest level of combat soldier in the IDF — the same as that held by troops from heavy infantry brigades.

“They will be operating some of the most advanced weapons systems that are used not only in Israel, but in the world,” Avsker said, explaining why the soldiers who serve on warships receive this status.

Six female recruits for an Israeli Navy pilot program to see if women can serve on warships, at the navy’s Haifa Base in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“They are also serving at sea. This is not trivial,” he said, referring to dangerous weather and other maritime threats.

The five soldiers who began the navy’s basic training last week were picked for the trial program after they had unsuccessfully tried out for the Israeli Naval Academy — known in Hebrew as Course Hovlim. The sixth had washed out from the Israeli Air Force’s demanding Pilot’s Course.

Unlike in the Armored Corps’ trial earlier this year, in which the purpose was to test whether or not female soldiers could handle the rigors of serving in a tank, but not necessarily to have the participants continue serving in one for the rest of their time in the army, the six female soldiers in the navy’s program are expected to complete their service on board the Sa’ar-6 corvettes, according to Avsker.

German workers construct a Sa’ar 6 corvette for the Israeli Navy in Kiel, Germany, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Sa’ar 6 warships are being constructed in Kiel, Germany. The first corvette, which will be known as the INS Magen, or shield, is scheduled to arrive in late 2019. The other three — “Oz,” meaning valor; “Atzmaut,” meaning independence; and “Nitzahon,” meaning victory — will be delivered by the beginning of 2021.

The ships are far larger and more powerful than the Sa’ar 5-class warships — currently Israel’s biggest — and are specifically meant to protect the country’s gas field and shipping lanes.

German workers construct a Sa’ar 6 corvette for the Israeli Navy in Kiel, Germany, in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The arrival of the ships will significantly change the face of the navy,” said the head of the Israeli Navy Maj. Gen. Eli Sharvit.

“The navy will operate vessels with new capabilities that we do not currently possess,” he said.

The 300-feet-long (90-meter) warships will be packed to the gills with highly sensitive detection equipment — to monitor both the surrounding sea and airspace — as well as offensive weapons and defensive missile interceptors. The corvettes also come equipped with a landing pad for a Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk helicopter.

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