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Romney Repeats Absurd Lie About Navy Strength

During that much-ballyhooed foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute, Mitt Romney repeated a ridiculous lie that has been debunked over and over again over the last couple years. He claimed, as many other Republicans have, that, “The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916.” But this is a great example of how to lie with numbers that have no context. The Navy currently has 285 ships; in 1916, the Navy had 245 ships.

But take a look at the types of ships on the list. Yes, there are cruisers and destroyers but also:

Gunboats
Steel Gunboats
Torpedo Boats
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.

The number of ships we have is absolutely irrelevant; the amount of naval and air power we can project is infinitely higher than at any time in our history. Highly dishonest.

Comments

  1. says

    Agreed. And in addition to our critically low cavalry numbers, we are seeing historically low levels of peasant conscripts for undermining enemy fortifications.

  2. imrryr says

    1916 was also long before we finally understood just how vulnerable those expensive surface ships were to attack from the air.

  3. says

    Monitors (that’s kind of a small warship)

    Specifically, a monitor is a kind of small, coastal warship modeled after the original Monitor, made famous in the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac. Some actually did get to be quite large, with up to three turrets containing two cannon apiece. They all also had about three feet of freeboard at best and could be swamped om rough seas. They were not good ships to use when projecting power unless the power you wanted to project happened to be against someone next door.

    Eventually some monitors were made that were more seaworthy, but those were only used in close troop support during WWI.

    Torpedo Boats

    These were small, usually wooden “warships” that were closer to “motorboats with a torpedo” (and in the late 19th Century that torpedo was often mounted at the end of a spar sticking off the front of the boat, requiring the torpedo boat to physically ram the ship it was attacking) in WWI. The famous WWII PT boats were an evolution of the WWI torpedo boats. Their primary advantage was that it was cost effective to send a dozen after a single capital ship. If the capital ship sank all but one in the process of going down it was still a lopsided victory on the tally sheet. For the torpedo boat side.

    To sum up, I’d take a dozen supercarriers over everything in the monitors, torpedo boats, and gunboats category. At the same time.

  4. wscott says

    Absurd, yes. But this isn’t just a Romneyism. The US Navy for decades has been obsessed with the “need” for a 300-ship fleet, irregardless of the strength & capabilities of those ships. And of course, they want 300 BIG ships; there is no push from within the Navy to bring back guboats. So they want to have it both ways.

  5. yoav says

    It’s obviously on the official talking point list (is there a big Mittens contributor who is going to make a shitload of money if they start building steam powered gunboats again), since Paul Ryan repeated this line during last night’s debate.

  6. Draken says

    I suppose the smallest of your current carriers could bomb the 1916 fleet to shreds. If they start at lunch, they can be back for teatime.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    1916 was also long before we finally understood just how vulnerable those expensive surface ships were to attack from the air.

    And much of the increase in actual power comes in terms of aircraft and missiles, so that one carrier hull accounts for a multitude of aircraft which are being ignored in these anachronistic calculations.

  8. The Lorax says

    So if I purchase 300 plastic toy boats, will Romney & Co. be jealous of my naval strength? Clearly, I out-number the US Navy.

  9. slc1 says

    I’m surprised that Romney hasn’t proposed to bring the 4 Iowa class battleships out of mothballs again, just like Reagan the rat did after being being elected in 1980.

  10. Michael Heath says

    Rep. Paul Ryan repeated this very lie in his debate last evening with VP Joe Biden. It was not rebutted by either Biden IIRC or the moderator.

  11. Doug Little says

    Wow this is the most absurd thing I have heard in a long time. One nuclear aircraft carrier could probably take out the entire 1916 navy fleet without even receiving a scratch.

    It’s like saying a fully automatic assault weapon is equal to a flintlock.

  12. sailor1031 says

    Romney is absolutely correct. We must have more ships to replace those in the mothball fleets (aka ‘reserve’ fleets) that have been taken away to the scrap yard. I don’t suppose mittens has proposed a way to provide for the increased crewsr that will be needed, though – in a time of budget cuts and austerity don’t you know?

  13. Jordan Genso says

    When Paul Ryan made the same lie last night, I did a spit-take at the absurdity of it. I had not heard the lie before, and so the shock factor caught me off guard.

    I just wish VP Biden would’ve come back with something along the lines of:

    Alright Congressman. You just said that our navy is going to be the smallest since before WWI if the cuts are enacted. Would you be willing to stake the election on that claim? Or would you rather take back that statement and apologize for being dishonest? In the real world, statements have meaning, and for you to so blatantly lie to the American people should disqualify you from the Vice Presidency.

  14. Abby Normal says

    Let’s take a look at the big three ship types, the ones that dominate and determine our ability to project power around the globe. Those are air craft carriers, nuclear subs, and cruisers. Not to say other ship types are unimportant. But they’re purpose is pretty much to support those big three.

    There are 22 active aircraft carriers in the world. The US has 11 of them.
    There are 134 active nuclear submarines in the world. The US has 71 of them.
    There are 28 active cruisers in the world. The US has 22 of them.

    Just what kind of nightmare scenario are the hawks preparing for? It’s like they think some Bond villain will manage to manipulate the entire rest of the world into attacking the US at once. I can’t imagine the level of fear that must exist in minds of people who look at our overwhelming Naval advantage and think I’m still too vulnerable. I bet if we fired Big Bird we could buy one more destroyer.

  15. chrisj says

    Abby:

    Don’t forget that the USA also has a large number of “amphibious assault” ships that carry large numbers of helicopters and/or SVTOL planes; many of these are heavier than – and carry more airpower than – any non-US ship (including aircraft carriers) other than the single Russian carrier and the single Chinese carrier (ex-Russian, and which notably isn’t currently able to actually, you know, carry aircraft).

  16. says

    Abby Normal @22: There are 22 active aircraft carriers in the world. The US has 11 of them.
    There are 134 active nuclear submarines in the world. The US has 71 of them.
    There are 28 active cruisers in the world. The US has 22 of them.

    And of the remaining, the Royal Navy has one of the aircraft carriers and 10 of the nuclear submarines.

    Italy and Spain have two carriers each and France, India, Brazil(!), and Thailand(!!)* each have one. The next biggest carrier after the American Nimitz-class is the Russian Admiral Kuntesov and its sister, the Chinese Liaoning, which is just over half the size with an airplane complement of approximately 50% of the American carriers. The rest are significantly smaller.

    Also, in a pinch it would probably be possible for the US to win a carrier battle against about half the non-US carriers in the world using the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault carriers.

    Also, we have ten Nimitz-class carriers and they’re planning on building three Ford-class carriers. The expected service life of the Nimitz-class goes until 2058 and the only carrier expected to retire any time soon is the Enterprise.

    That sounds like adding more carriers by my way of reckoning…

    -

    *The Thai aircraft carrier really doesn’t get used much, but the royal family seems to think of it as their private yacht.

  17. wscott says

    @ Abby #22: Excellent point; the relevant unit of measurement here is the number of carrier groups we have, as most of the other ships are there to support & protect the carrier.

    To be fair, no other nation has their navy (or army for that matter) spread all over the world in the same way the US does. China, for example, doesn’t feel the need to project their naval power across the globe, so they don’t need lots of carriers. So *if* you believe that America needs to have that capability, then the question is how many carrier groups we need to do that. But that would require a real discussion on what America’s role in the world should be, and neither party wants to go there.

  18. says

    I remember watching a History Channel (boy, now, there’s a misnomer) show about U.S. Naval power and an exercise in the area around Iran. During the exercise one of hte “enemy” subs got close enough to an aircraft carrier to have been a problem. At the time they were talking about the danger or Iranian “attack subs” being a peril. I cannot imagine that the Iranians have the time, what with makin’ teh bomz and all, to build stealth subs with a pretty paltry warshipbuilding infrastructure. I could be wrong on this (and, no doubt, will be told if I am) but I don’t see anything, short of all out nuclear war that would endanger the U.S. fleet in any particular way.

  19. says

    democommie @29: I could be wrong on this (and, no doubt, will be told if I am) but I don’t see anything, short of all out nuclear war that would endanger the U.S. fleet in any particular way.

    The big problem that a supercarrier faces is a high speed anti ship missile. They can be radar- or heat-seeking and once they lock on they can be pretty much assured of hitting their target, as a carrier doesn’t turn too fast.

    That’s really what the big ring of anti-aircraft frigates, destroyers, and cruisers that surround a carrier is designed to take down. The idea is that the air wing intercepts anything that comes within 70-100 miles and tries to take out any planes before they launch their missiles. If the missiles get launched the surface combatants then throw as many SAMs and bits of lead from the Vulcan machine gun systems in between the ASMs and the carrier.

    The Russians, meanwhile, have a system called the SS-N-27 that skims the waves and then pops up at a point when it’s really too close for the ships to do anything about it, acquires a target, and then hits the afterburners. Rumor has it that the Chinese are working on re-purposing ICBMs to attack surface ships, which is a terrifying concept, as there’s almost no conceivable countermeasure to an attack like that.

  20. Ichthyic says

    In fact, I think it would be an interesting matchup to take ONE modern ballistic missile submarine and pit it against the ENTIRE US fleet of 1916.

    I’d bet on the sub.

  21. Ichthyic says

    Just what kind of nightmare scenario are the hawks preparing for?

    I can tell you EXACTLY what nightmare scenario they are preparing for:

    Defense industries in their states reducing production.

    no kidding.

    that’s all it is, and all it has ever been.

    ask Eisenhower (well, ask his ghost, I guess).

  22. zmidponk says

    0.o

    This guy has absolutely ZERO clue about modern naval firepower and effectiveness, instead relying on simply counting the number of ships and comparing it to another ship-count from 96 years ago (and doesn’t even do that accurately), and he wants to be Commander-in-Chief?

  23. says

    Geds:

    Without disputing any of your offering, I don’t think that the Russians or Chinese are about to pick a fight with any of our forces, especially our navy. They would almost certainly be looking at a counterstrike for which the word, “massive” would be an order of magnitude too small.

    No nation with reasonably sane rulers/leaders wants to pick a fight with the U.S. The ones that do, generally, do not possess enough or advanced assets to do what you suggest.

    I have no doubt that there are many ways for a country like North Korea or Iran to sink U.S. supercarriers. I also have no doubt that there’s no way to do it without bringing the wrath of the rest of the U.S. military down on their heads.

  24. wscott says

    @ geds 30: Right. Some naval strategists have been arguing for decades that several smaller carriers would be more defensible – and cheaper – than one huge carrier.

    @Ichthyic 31: Well actually, ballistic missile subs have very limited anti-ship offensive capability, just a handful of torpedoes. An attack sub would do better, but still doesn’t carry enough torpedoes to take on a fleet by itself. So it would most likely sink a few ships and then dive so deep the fleet couldn’t strike back. But one modern carrier against the entire 1916 fleet? No contest. (Anyone remember the movie Final Countdown?)

    @ demo commie 34: The problem is that’s a circular argument. We don’t need a large military because no one is going to attack us…because we have such a large military. Reduce our force levels, and you increase the odds that someone will risk attacking us. Obviously I’ve oversimplified the argument, and our current force advantage is SO great that the increased risk of attack is probably small and acceptable. Especially our navy, which I think is way oversized. I also think current political & economic forces do as much to deter attack as military levels.

  25. says

    Well actually, ballistic missile subs have very limited anti-ship offensive capability, just a handful of torpedoes.

    I believe a 1mt airburst over a typical fleet would seriously inconvenience it, mostly permanently.

  26. Ichthyic says

    …and they can pack cruise missiles too.

    of course, this would be predicated on the ship being able to resupply.

  27. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Gunboats
    Steel Gunboats
    Torpedo Boats
    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.

    No, this is an apples and Atlantic Giant Pumpkins comparison.

  28. says

    w scott:

    I am not in favor of the current state of affairs. I’m just pointing out that as structured the USN would not be something any sane nation would wish to attack.

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