The sharpest exchange in the Oct. 22 presidential debate centered on the size of America’s Navy.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee and former Massachusetts governor, highlighted the shrinking size of the fleet, noting it was now the smallest it has been since World War I, a point he has brought up often on the stump. That brought a retort from his opponent.
“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” President Obama replied in the final debate, which focused on foreign policy and during which the president strove to paint his opponent as out of touch on national security issues. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”
Obama said assessing the fleet’s potency comes from considering its capabilities, a reach that has expanded with advancements in cruise missiles and unmanned surveillance airplanes. “And so the question is not a game of ‘Battleship,’ where we’re counting ships,” he continued. “It’s what are our capabilities.”
After the debate, #HorsesandBayonets became a popular trending term on Twitter.
The fleet now stands at 287 ships. The accepted method counts only so-called “battle force ships,” a tally that excludes auxiliaries, research and sea lift vessels. As Romney noted, the size of the Navy’s battle force has indeed shrunk over decades, going back to World War II, though it’s gone up a bit since 2007, when the fleet’s 278 ships were the lowest since 1916.
We want to hear from the fleet: Is the smaller ship total a sign of atrophying American might, as Romney contends? Or is the president right when he says new technology and a large lead over the rest of the world’s navies make up for any perceived shortfall? Let us know in the comments below.