There has been a lot of water cooler discussion this past two days. It’s all revolving around horses, bayonets and the Navy. For those of you who haven’t caught on to the reference yet, let me explain.
The Navy in a Presidential Debate
On Monday evening, the incumbent (President Obama) and the challenger (Governor Mitt Romney) squared off in the final presidential debate of the 2012 election cycle. Their topic was Foreign Policy. In any foreign policy debate an obvious topic is the military. This one was no different.
At one point while explaining why he would not support budget cuts to the military, Governor Romney charged that “our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917.” He went on to claim that “The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285.”
In response, President Obama quipped, “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.” The President continued,”And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we’re counting ships. It’s — it’s what are our capabilities.”
A Neutral Navy
Now if anyone remembers, the military (in this case specifically the Navy) does not take sides. The Navy is neither Republican, nor is it Democrat -or any other party for that matter. There is no endorsing of candidates. In fact, there are rules that sailors and their families have to follow when being politically active. The #1 rule being: The Navy is Neutral!
With all the exposure of the presidential debate in the media, and being the subject of one of the most widely referenced debate zingers, our Navy has been put in a most uncomfortable spotlight. -Especially since both sides have some truth behind their statements. Even social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are all abuzz about the Navy. Post like these have been popping up everywhere.
Horses, Bayonets, and Modern Warfare: 101
The following questions have been the predominant questions that I, Ollie, have been asked over the course of the last two days. I figured, if my co-workers and friends were that confused when it came to the Navy, maybe some of you are too. And instead of the hostilities found in the socio-political world, I could answer their questions for you all in a more civil and neutral manner.
Question: Do we have a smaller fleet today than we did in 1917?
Short Answer: Yes, Governor Romney was correct to mention that we have a smaller fleet now than we did in 1917. In 1917, we effectivly had 342 active ships. Today that number lingers at around 285 active ships.
Long Answer: Comparing the full 1917 fleet to the full fleet today is difficult. It runs into OPSEC. We have active ships and inactive ships. Inactive ships are ships that are being build, being repaired, or out of commission. Only a select few in Naval command could tell you which of those inactive ships would able to come online within a reasonable time frame to respond to a threat. It’s not something that the Navy is going to advertise.
The only way to attempt to answer that question is to use data on active ships. Using the Naval History & Heritage command document “U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1886-present” we can easily say yes, 1917 had more active duty ships than 2011. In 1917, we had 342 active ships. In 2011 active ships numbered 285. We even have enough data in that one document to average active ships from 2008-2011. When we do that we still get 285 active ships. Therefor there is no questioning that we have a smaller fleet.
Question: So, Governor Romney’s correct that we have the smallest fleet since 1917. Right?
Answer: No. According to Naval History & Heritage command (same document referenced in the last answer) the smallest fleet that we ever had since 1917 was back in 2007 when we had 278 active ships.
Question: At it’s peak how many active ships did we have? and how many did we start with?
Answer: When our navy was conceived back in 1775 we had 2 ships. By the end of WWII 1945, we had accumulated 6,768 active ships. That is the most active ships we have ever had and since then we have been pretty steadily decommissioning them.
Question: Are we getting more? Governor Romney said the Navy needed more.
Answer: It depends. In March the Navy officials went before congress and presented a plan (You can read the plan. It’s in the public domain It covers from 2013-2042 and details how many ships, what kind, and what the goals are. On that note, if you do wish to read it… It’s boring!). They said to meet their needs they wanted to have 300 active ships by 2019. Currently some of those ships are being built. If sequestration (money that was budgeted for but isn’t coming due to a shortage) happens then obviously not as many ships get built, not as many ships get repaired, and not as many ships get updated as often as would be liked.
Question: So where do horses and bayonets come in? That isn’t navy-ish. That doesn’t deal with water at all!
Long Answer: Our Navy isn’t just a water navy. Our sailors do many different things. Some examples:
- Blue Angels- They are Navy Pilots! They fly!
- Astronauts- Today there is a joint selection program out of the Air Force and the Navy to pick candidates for space flight, but in the early years that honor belonged solely to the Navy.
- Corpsmen- AKA Medics. Navy medics serve in numerous capacities. They are not just stuck on a floating hospital. They could have shore duty at a naval base or be attached at the front lines to another branch of the armed forces.
- Linguists- AKA Interpreters. Just like medics serve in all kinds of capacities. The biggest is to help our guys understand the people they come into contact with.
The Navy has a larger role to play than just patrolling waters. Go check out the website. Maybe you will find a career.
Question: Okay, do explain the horses and bayonets. Does the Navy actually have those?
Answer: The military has them and yes, in certain circumstances the Navy uses them.
Question: Why? and what for? That is a little medieval don’t you think?
Answer: (gingerly tiptoeing around OPSEC here) Our military is unquestionably one of the best militaries in the world. We don’t like to limit our capabilities. While it is true that having the calvary charge into battle and spearing the enemy in hand to hand combat is more of a relic of the past and honestly a very last resort, not all of yesterday’s warfare is irrelevant. Our military stays current on technology. It has to in order to keep us safe. We can do more with less. The equipment we have today are obviously better than the equipment we had 50 years ago. But that doesn’t mean we gave up the horses or bayonets. In fact, both can be seen in use in modern warfare. When trucks and tanks can’t get through… a horse might. And that bayonet makes a great spear when you run out of bullets. The objective is that we are advancing. Today we have a smarter, more capable military than at any point in our past. And we are going to utilize every bit of it.
Hopefully some of the answers to my colleges and friends questions quelled any confusion that you had. But, if it didn’t or if you are still confused, or if I didn’t even address your question don’t hesitate to ask it below in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get you the correct answer in it’s appropriate context.
TTFN- Until next time.