In the World War I period from 1914 to 1918 the United States had a fleet level of 363, a fleet smaller than Germany, the United Kingdom and France. It remained at that level in the 1920’s (an average of 376) and during the ‘30’s till 1938 (an average of 339 ships).
Now the U.S. Navy is a mere shadow of itself. During the recent presidential debate, candidate Mitt Romney noted that naval capability had shrunk to a level lower than World War I. Technically he was correct since naval forces are now at 287.
President Obama glibly responded by suggesting this is irrelevant; after all, we don’t rely on bayonets or horses either. His implication is that our ships are more sophisticated than their predecessors at sea so the numbers do not carry the same logistical weight they once did.
By any standard this is questionable. Numbers matter. If one third of our ships are in repair and one third are in port for the rest and relaxation of sailors, there are approximately 90 vessels available to patrol the seven seas protecting American interests. This is not only an historical record, it is a number inadequate for the task at hand.
An active and assertive blue water Chinese navy is intent on challenging U.S. naval superiority in the Pacific. In the past, challenges of this kind were met by a show of force, an aircraft carrier force or joint military maneuvers with an allied nation. At the moment, we do not have the fleet strength for a symbolic act or to engage in joint training with say, Japan.
The Obama administration has simply hollowed out U.S. capabilities.
That's simply not true. The U.S. controls 50 percent of the world's naval power, compared to just 11 perdent in 1916, and fact-checkers agree that Romney (and London's) obsession with comparing Navy ship numbers over decades is meaningless.
London also misses the fact that there wasn't an Air Force in 1916, which reduces the need for a massive number of ships.
London goes on to lament that "Military spending is 4.5 percent of GDP, a far cry from World War II levels and a fraction of domestic spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security." London ignores that this is a large increase from the late 1990s, when military spending was 3 percent of GDP. Current declines in military spending are mostly tied to the winding down of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.