Obama and the Bayonets: Who's Right on the Defense Debate?

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NEW YORK - MAY 22:  U.S. Navy sailors walk past the USS Iwo Jima docked on the Hudson River during Fleet Week May 22, 2009 in New York City. Fleet Week, which annually brings an array of warships to New York City's harbors on Memorial Day weekend, is being celebrated this year with the smallest flotilla of ships since the event began 22 years ago, as budgets have been hampered by the current economic crisis.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)Monday's debate between President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney was a bit of a yawn-fest, but it did feature one memorable exchange:

Romney: Our navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.

Obama: [Romney mentions] the Navy, for example, and how we have fewer ships than we had in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have ships that go under water, nuclear submarines.

Give the president credit for a quick counterpunch, but do his arguments hold water? Is the U.S. government under President Obama being a good steward of your tax dollars, as it spends them on aircraft carriers, nuclear subs, and other gear for a smaller, high-tech Navy?

Yes and no. The president's right that today's 285-ship Navy bears little resemblance to the 245-ship fleet of nearly a century ago. John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org, points out that "today's aircraft carrier has about 10 times the lethality of an aircraft carrier of [even] 20 years ago." The modern U.S. Navy bears little resemblance to the circa-1916 fleet of wooden and steel dreadnoughts. (Although Argentina's might.)

But Romney's broader point -- that today's Navy has fewer than half the 592 ships it had at its peak in 1989 -- is correct. And as Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations -- and a big fan of high-tech military machinery -- recently pointed out, "today's ships are more capable than their 1916 predecessors, but the reality that you can only have one ship in one place at any one time hasn't changed."

The bigger issue, though, is what a small, high-tech -- and expensive! -- military does to America's budget deficit.

The fewer ships (and aircraft and tanks) we build, the fewer companies we need to build them. This has led to consolidation among big defense contractors like Boeing (BA), Lockheed Martin (LMT), and General Dynamics (GD). It's also led to less price competition among these contractors.

The Obama administration has also missed chances to cut costs, for example, by succumbing to lobbying efforts from Goldman Sachs (GS) and its Hawker Beechcraft subsidiary. Earlier this year, Hawker lost a contract to Brazil's Embraer (ERJ) to build us a low-cost, prop-driven warplane for use in Afghanistan. The administration voided that contract, and has yet to choose a new winner -- to the detriment of our troops in the field.

Moral of the story: Even 20th-century technology is better than nothing.


Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Goldman Sachs and Embraer.



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croone22

Not only was Obama wrong but his whole plan is to downsize America's military capacity. Just check his downsizing of our nuclear weapons arsensal in his own admitted stupid statement that he wants a zero nuclear world. There is nothing in Obama's resume that comes close to quaifying him to be the Commander and Chief.
He couldn't run a boy-scout troop.Get educated America,you're being duped. Obama is depending on your ignorance.

October 25 2012 at 11:33 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to croone22's comment
freethedems2012

Obama is going to get us all killed.

October 26 2012 at 11:43 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
freethedems2012

How sad that the Socialist/Communist liberals want to destroy America.

October 25 2012 at 5:12 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
michelebachmann9

michelebachmann9
coochiescooter, freethedems2012, barrrickkfarrikk,.....Thanks you guys for talking nonsense, lies and hate. That is what the Tea Party is all about!

Remember folks! Vote for the GOP if you want to repeal the 20th century!

October 25 2012 at 3:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to michelebachmann9's comment
michelebachmann9

coochiescooter,freethedems2012,..........Keep scaring people away that is what we republicans want! We want to show america that we're a bunch of crack pots. Keep up the good work whackjobs!!!!!!!!!!

October 25 2012 at 3:34 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
freethedems2012

Only an idiot lib would post under a alias. You are pathetic, Evan. Vote Obama and he will finish off the economy.

October 25 2012 at 4:53 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to freethedems2012's comment
freethedems2012

an alias ..................... and Evan has many. I wonder if the police know,

October 25 2012 at 4:57 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down
coochiescooter

Somey is more fun Evan cause he hits like a girl. That's the nicer one of your multiple personalities, well until you get him drunk on coolaid and god knows what else.

October 25 2012 at 2:22 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to coochiescooter's comment
freethedems2012

Evan should be in therapy.

October 25 2012 at 2:58 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
coochiescooter

Obama is a failure as a president, and all the left can do is blame Bush and the republicans for all Barry's F Ups .

October 25 2012 at 1:52 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to coochiescooter's comment
freethedems2012

Blaming Bush is all they have. Of course if Romney wins, they will have rioting. That is the nature of the beast.

October 25 2012 at 1:54 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
coochiescooter

Obama is toast, even he knows it, that's why Obama attacks Romney and Ryan all day and night, and his faithful flock like Evan is right there by his side. He thinks he's protecting hi free ride.

October 25 2012 at 1:59 PM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
freethedems2012

Socialism/Communism as represented by Obama, is anti-American.

October 25 2012 at 1:50 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
freethedems2012

Voting for Obama just because he is black is racist.

October 25 2012 at 1:49 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
Artie

Next to social programs, the next biggest piece of the USA's budget pie goes towards defense spending. The Soviet Union imploded trying to keep up with the USA on defense spending. And, don't think for a minute that this country can continue to afford the costly wars of occupation and nation re-building we have been waging. We can no longer afford to be the unpaid policeman of the planet. While I'm a proponent of this country having the strongest military force on earth, I truly believe there are priorities where defense spending is concerned. For sure, build more Predator drones or spend money where we have been successful fighting terrorism. Pay for military hardware we can actually use. However, I don't think we need to be building anymore nuclear armed Trident Submarines (not that they are building these subs these days) when we can blow up the planet 10X over. We can't just decide arbitrarily say NO to all defense spending cuts when this country's debt is $16 trillion and growing. Smart sacrifices are going to have to be made everywhere including where this “sacred cow” is concerned. There are definitely a bunch of unneeded programs, research projects or lesser priority type expenditures that can be eliminated or reduced. These decisions have to be made on a case by case basis by the so-called experts who administer and decide on this country's defense needs and major programs. There should be a real need and not just based on political BS.

October 25 2012 at 11:54 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Artie's comment
coochiescooter

Easy fix, close the bases and embassies in the middle east, and then cut off all foreign aid to the islamic radical scum over there. That alone would put a big dent in the budget ( if we had one ) Thank Barry for that. The Islamic radical scum aka the Muslim brotherhood doesn't want us there on their turf. So that being said, let all those camel strokers in that neck of the woods slaughter themselves as they have been fighting since man was on the planet. Bring all our troops back here and take care of the borders in our own country. Problem solved.

October 25 2012 at 1:48 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to coochiescooter's comment
Jcwfuntime

This article failed to mention the "Bigger Issue", that President Obama mentioned, which was that he meets and confirs with the top military leaders, on an ongoing basis, and listens to their "current military needs", and an assessment is made, and adjustments are made accordingly. There has to be a process, which he does have in place. You can't just make more ships because you "Just want to"!!

October 25 2012 at 10:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jcwfuntime's comment
coochiescooter

Yeah, but why did Obama try to hide the truth about the terrorist attack in Bengazi, when they knew all along it was ?

October 25 2012 at 11:12 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
drex88

Another shinning example of obama showing he doesn't know anything.Time for a change

October 25 2012 at 9:38 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply