WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Navy is coming under increasing pressure to end its 100-year ban on women serving aboard submarines, a prohibition that critics say unfairly limits the career choices of female sailors.

A Pentagon civilian advisory panel has recommended that the Navy put women officers aboard Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines _ the largest subs in the service _ and redesign the Virginia-class attack submarines now in development so that women can serve aboard those smaller, state-of-the-art subs.

The submarine service, which this year marked its centennial, is one of the last areas of the military to exclude women.

The Navy argues there is too little room on submarines to accommodate women's privacy needs, although it has permitted women to serve aboard most combat ships _ including aircraft carriers _ since 1994.

The only other areas off limits to women are front-line combat positions in the Army, such as tank and artillery crews.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services voted on Sunday to recommend that the Navy begin by assigning women officers to the Ohio-class subs. It did not recommend including female enlisted sailors.

In the longer term, the Navy should redesign its smaller Virginia-class attack submarines to accommodate coed crews, the panel said.

``The submarine service is an elite, prestigious force that requires the brightest and best-qualified work force,'' the panel wrote in its recommendation to Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and Adm. Jay Johnson, the chief of naval operations. ``Navy women are highly capable and competitive and would volunteer for submarine duty.''

The panel members, who are appointed by the secretary of defense to provide advice on issues related to women's role in the military, made their recommendations after a two-year study and consultation with the Navy on its objections to ending the traditional ban on women serving aboard submarines.

``We think the Navy needs to open this up,'' Vickie McCall, chairman of the advisory panel, said in a telephone interview. ``There are women who would really like to be on a submarine.''

Danzig said Thursday that he welcomed the panel's conclusions.

``The logical next step is to encourage the submarine community to _ as dispassionately as possible _ evaluate both parts of that and talk about it,'' Danzig said in a brief interview. Many defense officials believe it is unlikely the Navy will take any action on this politically sensitive issue before next year at the earliest.

Last June, Danzig caused a stir in the Navy by telling the Naval Submarine League that it was time they come to grips with the need to include women in their midst and to broaden opportunities for minority sailors.

``If the submarine force remains a white male bastion, it will wind up getting less and less support when it requires resources, when it has troubles _ be they accidents or personnel issues or other kinds of things,'' Danzig said then. ``It will find itself more and more starved in its recruiting and more and more undercut in terms of the support it achieves for its missions.''

Johnson has opposed including women on submarine crews, mainly on grounds that it would be impractical to meet both men's and women's privacy needs. Johnson's spokesman, Capt. Jim Kudla, said Thursday that Johnson had not changed his view. ``We currently have no plan to change our policy,'' Kudla said.

In its report to Danzig and Johnson, the advisory panel acknowledged the Navy's concern about privacy and the cost of retrofitting submarines to accommodate female crew members.

``However, the Navy's historical experience and commitment to the utilization of women on other (vessels) provides a model for change,'' the panel said. ``Drawing on these experiences will better enable the Navy to overcome obstacles it perceives as prohibiting integration of women into the submarine service.''

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On the Net:

The advisory panel is at http://www.dtic.mil/dacowits

Navy on submarines at http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ships/submarines/sub100.html