Debate recap: How fleet-size discussion turned into #HorsesandBayonets


In the last presidential debate, the fleet’s size took center stage. // AP

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.


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  1. HMC(FMF)D.L. Bocker on

    Niether of these waahoos ever stood the watch. It should be a law that the command in chief have prior military experience, this way they would know what they were talking about.

  2. Obama said no new taxes, should have been No New Ships. All proposed new ships that had not had a keel laid, were canceled. The aging Arleigh Burke destroyers are reaching their life expectancy and in some cases, already pass. The 20 life span is now an additional 20 if the crews can keep up with the corrosion and decay. DOD has electronics refit proposals but are crossong their fingers on the 4 engines and 2 shafts. Some have new props. We don’t want to look like russian navy after 10 years of nothing new. Look at what they currently have floating.. floating is a key word..

    Romney will help keep the US #1 and help get us all back on track.


  3. Anonymous naval officer on

    Psst, AJ, the Navy Times is not the place to fib about ship construction. I suppose you’re talking about all the Virginia class submarines, Zumwalt and Arleigh Burke destroyers, LCS’s, support ships, and, oh yeah, the carrier, that have been started, continued, christened, and commissioned over the last 4 years. Have a debate, but don’t make up stuff.

    HMC, I know where you’re coming from, but if we had that rule, we wouldn’t just lose Clinton and George W. Bush, but Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR. And we’d still have Grant, Nixon, and Carter. I’m sure you know plenty of military personnel I’d never want as student body president, let alone holding the launch codes.

    Emilio Perez, the answer is, because we keep adding commitments and never taking any away. And never accepting risks.

  4. I fear for the future of the Navy due to the intention of replacing the Arleigh Burke destroyers with the useless LCS, a design with no permanent missile capability like the Arleigh Burke’s, no permanent sonars, merely a dream of someone whom hopefully has retired out by now. DOD does not intend to have survivability tests done on the LCS
    due to the damage that may be inflicted. A sad future for the fine men and wonem of the fleet.

  5. I agree..if its the right size then why are deployments 8-10 mths long now….why is it that ships getting ready to go on deployment have to scavenge parts off ships that have come back from deployment for parts just to get underway…..why is it that a ship with enough racks for 425 sailors can barely manage 265 on a good day? Why is that out of those 265, 20-30 of them get pulled off to go on a ships that are deploying for that 8-10 mths deployments and after they leave no one is sent to the ship to fill there billets…..optimal manning and fleet size..thats a joke

  6. Hey, Anonymous naval officer, As stated, If the keel was laid, it was built, The ships that had the metel pre cut were started. They even have steel pre cut for a new Carrier already for the build to start.
    They, Dept of the Navy, has a report yearly called ‘Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans’ I am sure you can find one… It list, by year, future plans on the building of our Navy. Look at 2009, 2010, 2011 and the new one just out. Oct, 2012…. 🙂 You will agree that ship building has been cut and that the Navy is having to make plans to have the current fleet extend their retirement age. It all in the congressional report, availble to the public. Has lots of great info. Just look and read

  7. Congressional report:

    Oct. 2012

    The FY2013-FY2017 five-year shipbuilding plan contains a total of 41 ships—14 ships, or about
    25%, less than the 55 ships in the FY2012 five-year (FY2012-FY2016) shipbuilding plan, and 16
    ships, or about 28%, less than the 57 ships that were planned for FY2013-FY2017 under the
    FY2012 budget. Of the 16 ships no longer planned for FY2013-FY2017, 9 were eliminated from
    the Navy’s shipbuilding plan and 7 were deferred to years beyond FY2017. The nine ships that
    were eliminated were eight Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSVs) and one TAGOS ocean
    surveillance ship. The seven ships deferred beyond FY2017 were one Virginia-class attack
    submarine, two LCSs, one LSD(X) amphibious ship, and three TAO(X) oilers. The Navy’s
    proposed FY2013 budget also proposes the early retirement of seven Aegis cruisers and the
    placement into Reduced Operating Status (ROS) of two LSD-type amphibious ships.
    The Navy’s FY2013 30-year (FY2013-FY2042) shipbuilding plan, which was submitted to
    Congress on March 28, 2012 (more than a month after the submission of the FY2013 budget on
    February 13, 2012), does not include enough ships to fully support all elements of the Navy’s
    310-316 ship goal over the long run. The Navy projects that the fleet would remain below 310
    ships during the entire 30-year period, and experience shortfalls at various points in ballistic
    missile submarines, cruisers-destroyers, attack submarines, and amphibious ships.

  8. As we transition from a ground force optempo in the middle east there is no doubt that we will have an always present naval force in the area for years to come. they want a 2.0 presence in the aor but that soon will be increase with future uprisings in other arab countries. as our soldiers come home like they should, our sailors will take in all lines and replace them for the 8-12 month deployments, come home for 4 months and return for another fun filled extended surge deployment filled with beer days and little port visits. shore tours are being lessened and if you have done 24 months of shore time, get ready for the call to tell you what hull number to report to by next month, HOOYAH – retirement can’t come soon enough!!!

  9. As for needing more ships and sailors, yes to both. ask any commanding officer if they want to deploy with 10% less crew then what they have right now and suprise they already are having to do it. the great decision makers in d.c. are all on their last tour and will never stand up to the potus and say we can’t do that, but why shouldn’t they? they are all on their last tour anyways, what GEN or ADM is waiting on their pcs orders to usff, pacflt or anywhere else a 4 star job is? they are counting the days away until they get to donn the suit and tie and land their executive job in the beltway on the backs of the sailors they set sail without a care for what they are doing to our fleet.

  10. Michael Clemente on

    Obviously we do not have enough ships. The ones we have are deployed 40% longer and 60% more often than ever before. Sailors and ship are being driven in the ground to meet our requirements around the world. Throw into that, the manning issue. A ship built fro 320, now must make do with 250. We steal from ships that are not deployed just to man the ships that are going on deployment to that low level. We do not fund the proper maintenance when the ships are in port and we cram so much into their in port schedules that no maintenance can get done regardless. I have watched the ruination of my Navy by clueless leaders and penny pinching politicians. Way to go guys. You really screwed a perfectly running machine up there.

  11. Faustling’s comment is incorrect. Tonnage is NOT the way to measure a navy’s capability. A nation can build 200 cruisers and destroyers and it would still not match the combat capability of 2 or 3 carriers. It is the capability of the individual vessels and their ability to work together that equates to combat capability.
    Lets not forget that in the Early 90’s the Russians had more Tonnage than the US, but most of it was to worn out to operate safely…especially their submarines.

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