There’s an old saying in the journalism community: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.
The lead story on Drudge Report today proclaimed that the U.S. Navy is sending 34 ships to Mumbai, India, to provide security for President Obama’s visit. The story links to an Indian news report you can read here. This is what Drudge seized on:
He will also be protected by a fleet of 34 warships, including an aircraft carrier, which will patrol the sea lanes off the Mumbai coast during his two-day stay there beginning Saturday. The measure has been taken as Mumbai attack in 2008 took place from the sea.
Taken at face value, this would seem to be a strange claim. Today the Navy has a fleet of 288 deployable battle force ships. How would an already stretched Navy muster 12 percent of the fleet to provide security in Mumbai? And which aircraft carrier are they sending to patrol the sea lanes in Mumbai? The Abraham Lincoln and the Harry S. Truman, the two carriers in the area, are both supporting the war in Afghanistan and maritime security operations right now. Breaking off Lincoln to patrol near India isn’t out of the realm of possibility but it seems unlikely.
A little more perspective: A typical carrier strike group comprises a carrier, a cruiser, and a couple destroyers. And that’s considered a lot of sea power. (Some might even say it’s power unlimited.) The massive RIMPAC exercise earlier this year managed to muster 40 ships, but they were from seven nations. In fact, 34 would be just shy of half the number of warships, excluding patrol craft and auxiliary ships, used during the invasion of Iraq.
Navy policy prohibits the service from commenting on presidential security arrangements. But a source within the Defense Department questioned the report, calling it “inaccurate,” and indicated the number was inflated.
There you have it, the story isn’t true. Calm down, people.
Now, if you take into account that the Indian coast guard will undoubtedly be patrolling Mumbai’s harbor at a heightened state of readiness, then you will probably have more than 34 vessels pulling security. But the idea of the Navy sending 34 ships is, frankly, absurd.
The uproar comes on the heels of unsubstantiated and flimsy reports that the president’s upcoming 10-day trip to Asia would cost taxpayers $200 million per day. Navy Times’ inimitable news editor Jenn Rafael points out Obama’s trip would then cost about as much as a Virginia-class submarine. The White House says those reports are also wildly inaccurate. USA Today’s “Oval” blog also put some AFFF on those flames. Read that take here.
Update: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell commented yesterday on the 34-ship armada. “I will take the liberty this time of dismissing as absolutely absurd this notion that somehow we were deploying 10 percent of the Navy — some 34 ships and an aircraft carrier — in support of the president’s trip to Asia,” he said. “That’s just comical. Nothing close to that is being done.”