Women had never been allowed to serve on submarines in the 110-year history of the underwater force.
The new coed era will begin once selected female officers complete 15 months of training. The plan calls for three women to be assigned to eight crews attached to four guided-missile attack and ballistic missile submarines, the Navy said on its Web site.
The change had been anticipated since Defense Secretary Robert Gates formally presented a letter to congressional leaders Feb. 19 notifying them of the Navy's desire to reverse the policy of prohibiting submarine service to women.
"There are extremely capable women in the Navy who have the talent and desire to succeed in the submarine force," Mabus said. "Enabling them to serve in the submarine community is best for the submarine force and our Navy. We literally could not run the Navy without women today."
Women make up 15 percent of the active duty Navy -- 52,446 of 330,700 personnel.
Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said it would be "foolish to not take the great talent, the great confidence and intellect of the young women who serve in our Navy today and bring that into our submarine force."
The subs selected have adequate living space and won't require modification to integrate women into the crews. Each sub is designed to carry 15 officers and at least 140 enlisted personnel.