In the run-up to Election Day
, both campaigns have put an increased focus on national security, foreign policy and defense spending. President Barack Obama has touted, among other things, the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, a strategic pivot to the Asian-Pacific and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has criticized the President for his policies in the Middle East, decried defense-spending cuts from the Department of Defense efficiency push and the congressionally mandated sequestration process, and said he plans to pump more money into the Pentagon budget.
Most recently, Obama and Romney have clashed over Navy force structure. The President’s plan invests in nearly ten new ships a year, bringing the aggregate to 307 vessels by 2042. The Romney camp is advocating a 350-ship Navy based on a procurement rate of 15 ships per year.
Both Obama and Romney want to buy more submarines, destroyers and aircraft carriers, but Romney also wants a new frigate and a dedicated missile-defense ship. Both the President and his challenger are advocating more tactical fighter aircraft, including a mix of F/A-18s and F-35s. Romney advisers have said they want more of the legacy Hornets, in addition to the new joint-service platform and want to add an 11th carrier air wing, to match air units to each of the Navy’s eleven aircraft carriers.
The two also differ on the total number of ships the Navy needs. At the 19 October foreign policy debate, Romney stuck by his call for a 350-ship fleet. “Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917,” Romney said. “I want to make sure we have the ships that are required by our Navy.”
The stand prompted one of the more terse exchanges between the two candidates during this cycle.
This week in a speech in Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about his plan to build a 350-ship Navy, boosting spending on current programs and creating two new ship designs. But affordability is a key detail in any procurement discussion, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that the Romney camp is still fleshing out. Romney also did not identify any new requirements for a 350-ship fleet.
There is no doubt shipbuilding is a priority for whomever occupies the White House for the next four years. The Navy’s current roster of ships is near its smallest since 1916, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Act authorizing a massive build-up. At Wilson’s behest and with congressional approval, the Navy built 10 battleships, six battlecruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers and other support vessels over three years, tripling the size of the sea service by 1919. Wilson’s 752-ship Navy was the high-water mark for decades, and his push leading up to World War I is credited with establishing U.S. naval dominance in the 20th century. But the expansion came at a cost — some $500 million at the time or a mere $10.2 billion in current-year dollars. But today’s ships are different by nearly all metrics — mission, capability, sophistication, size and cost among other factors.
Nearly a century later, Congress finds itself in much the same quandary as Wilson — an aging fleet of warships in need of modernization and, some say, expansion. The U.S. fleet as a whole has been on a slow decline since the late 1980s, bottoming out at 278 ships in 2007. The Navy says it needs between 310 and 316 ships to meet all its obligations around the world, a number that has remained roughly unchanged since the 1994 Quadrennial Defense Review.