Aspin seeks to form common policy on military combat roles for women

April 08, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- With different branches of the arme services moving in different directions on the role of women, Defense Secretary Les Aspin says he will establish a common policy governing women in combat in the next several months.

Mr. Aspin made his intentions known yesterday after Air Force officials gave details about a program that will stop training female student pilots on high-performance training aircraft.

Women on active duty are not allowed to fly combat aircraft, but the high-performance training is an important step toward that goal. The new restrictions were imposed in January at one of the Air Force's four training bases and will be introduced at the other three by 1996, Air Force officials said.

For its part, the Navy has said it would begin opening a modest number of assignments on four classes of previously all-male supply and communications ships to compensate for 1,700 job opportunities for female sailors aboard ships that are being taken out of service or transferred to the reserves. In addition, Navy officials have long-term plans to let women fly combat aircraft.

A senior Army general said the Army would "keep its head down" on changing its policies toward women until it received specific guidance from civilian Pentagon policy makers.

"Consistency -- that's got to happen," Mr. Aspin told reporters when asked about the Navy plans.

"I think we need to do something on it, anyway," the secretary said when asked about the timing of his new policy. "We're already thinking of things that would happen before Oct. 1."

A senior Pentagon official said that no decisions had been made yet but that Mr. Aspin was leaning in favor of putting women in combat cockpits and broadening their assignments in other combat jobs.

The services are going their own ways about combat jobs for women in the absence of direction from Mr. Aspin, who has not had a full complement of senior staff members while he has been barraged with difficult issues since he took office in January.

Under the Air Force plan, which was reported yesterday in The Sun, female Air Force pilots would receive instruction only in subsonic T-37 training planes. The next step now for all student pilots is advanced training in supersonic T-38 jet aircraft and air combat tactics.

Air Force officials defended the new program yesterday as a wise use of shrinking budgets and a more effective way to train pilots in the specific aircraft they would fly in their military careers.

The Navy, for its part, has been aggressively promoting its proposal to Mr. Aspin to open more all-male ships to female sailors. Adm. Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations, said recently that he was "trying to find additional places where women can serve their country as we decommission ships and '' squadrons or transfer functions to the reserves."

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