Earlier this week, the size of the fleet took center stage in the presidential campaign.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor widely regarded as the front-runner in the contest for the Republican nomination, raised the issue at Monday’s debate when he cited the fleet’s size as evidence that President Barack Obama is allowing the military to atrophy.
“Our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917,” Romney said, going on to add: “We simply cannot continue to cut our Department of Defense budget if we are going to remain the hope of the Earth. And I will fight to make sure America retains military superiority.”
Afterwards, the fact-checking site PolitiFact took up Romney’s claim. Their verdict? “Pants on fire.”
The Navy is the smallest it has been since 1916, based on the 285 battle force ships currently in service. So that part is true. But PolitiFact took exception to Romney’s contention that a smaller fleet means a weaker Navy, citing a broad range of experts who said this was too simple.
PolitiFact also notes that the fleet has enlarged since it hit a low under President George W. Bush. “Put it all together and you have a statement that, despite being close to accurate in its numbers, uses those numbers in service of a ridiculous point,” PolitiFact concluded.
Last week, in fact, Navy Undersecretary Bob Work made this same argument before the audience at the annual Surface Navy Association conference. As Defense News reported, Work said: “This is a different fleet. This is a more powerful fleet. I will take this fleet over a 600-ship Navy… in a heartbeat.”
Romney, however, has made building a larger fleet a central tenet of his defense strategy. Romney has advocated building 15 ships a year — the Obama administration plans to build 10 this year — as part of his goal to “restore America’s naval credibility,” according to his defense policy paper. However, the plan is short on specifics, such as which type of ships.