“The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916. I will restore our Navy to the size needed to fulfill our missions by building 15 ships per year, including three submarines.”
This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard this from Romney. He made a similar claim during a debate in advance of January’s Florida primary and he made the same claim during a debate earlier in the month in South Carolina:
ROMNEY: I’ve still got time. So as long as I still have time I just want to go back and agree with what Governor Perry said, the most extraordinary thing that’s happened with this military authorization is the president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending. Our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.
We are cutting our number of troops. We are not giving the veterans the care they deserve. 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.
Glenn Kessler takes a look at Romney’s claims about our Naval strength and finds them to be completely untrue:
The historical records of the Navy show that in 1916, the Navy had 245 ships. This was also the year that President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Naval Act of 1916, which put the United States on a crash course to build a world-class Navy.
But take a look at the types of ships on the list. Yes, there are cruisers and destroyers but also:
Monitors (that’s kind of a small warship)
These types of boats aren’t on the list anymore. Instead, the current list of Navy ships includes behemoths such as aircraft carriers, “SSBN” (nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile carrying submarines) and “SSGN” (cruise-missile submarines).
In other words, this is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Romney’s line reminds us of a similar strained comparison he made last year regarding the workforce needs to make ships during World War II and today. But in this case he goes even deeper back into history. After all, 1916 is not only before computers, it is before television — even before regular radio broadcasts.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, notes that it is difficult to make comparisons between ships that are even much more recent. “Today’s aircraft carrier has about 10 times the lethality of an aircraft carrier of 20 years ago, due to the advent of precision munitions — in the old days, it was sorties per target, now it is targets per sortie,” he said.
The current level of ships, 285 in fiscal 2011, is actually not even the lowest since 1916. The historical list shows that the lowest ship force was reached during the Bush administration, when the number of ships fell to 278 in 2007. Given the change over time in the composition of the naval force, that probably is the most relevant comparison — and the trend line is up.