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