Rebuttal of the attacks on Mitt Romney’s shipbuilding plan


The liberal NYTimes has recently published an article wrongly attacking Mitt Romney’s plan as “unrealistic” (Romney Plan for More Military Ships Is Called Unrealistic) in which two “analysts”, Michele Flournoy (now an Obama campaign “advisor”, read: hack) and Todd Harrison (of the CSBA), are widely quoted as attacking Mitt Romney’s shipbuilding plan as “unrealistic” and making completely false claims about his shipbuilding and defense spending plans.

Flournoy falsely claims that:

  • Ship numbers don’t matter, only ship capabilities do; and
  • Under Obama, shipbuilding has increased from its rates under President Bush.

Both of her claims are dead wrong. Contrary to her claims, ship numbers do matter. They matter a great deal. A ship, no matter how capable and how technologically advanced it is, can be in only one place at any given time. When a navy doesn’t have enough ships – as is the case  with the USN today – it cannot execute all of its missions.

No amount of technology or capability is, or will ever be, a substitute for numbers.

Yet, the Navy is smaller today that at almost any other point (except 2007) in the last 96 years, even though the world is much more dangerous than it was in 1916 or even 2001 and hasn’t gotten any smaller (geographically).

To be able to cover the world, 70% of the surface of which is water, the Navy will need far more ships than it has today.

Furthermore, the Navy’s current size is woefully inadequate for today’s requirements (let alone the much larger requirements of tomorrow). At present, it can meet only 59% of Combatant Commanders’ requests for ships, and only 61% of their requirements for submarines. So Romney is right: the Navy doesn’t have nearly enough ships to do its missions. It’s a simple supply and demand situation: the demand vastly outstrips the limited supply.

Furthermore, two independent studies – one by the QDR Independent Review Panel (the Hadley-Perry panel) and one by Flournoy’s former employer, the CNAS – have concluded that the Navy needs 346 ships – a far cry from the meager 285 vessels it has today. The CNAS stresses that so many ships are needed just to back up American diplomacy and reassure America’s allies. Coincidentally, their calculations of the needed ship number (346) is quite similar to that reached by Romney and his defense issues advisors.

Flournoy would be well advised to stop running her ignorant mouth and instead read the report that her own think tank, the CNAS, has published about Navy fleet size requirements.

And yes, fewer ships DO mean a weaker Navy. Not only because a ship cannot be in two places simoultaneously, but also because one technologically advanced ship is always a smaller military capability than two ships of similar technological sophistication and armament.

Furthermore, the Obama Administration plans to decommission 9 ships prematurely: 7 young, technologically-advanced Ticonderoga class cruisers and 2 amphibious ships. Scrapping those 7 cruisers would mean losing more firepower and technological capability than that wielded by the entire surface fleet of the British Royal Navy.

As for shipbuilding supposedly increasing under Obama – don’t make me laugh. Obama has not increased the annual shipbuilding rate by even one vessel, and it remains what it was during the Bush years – a meagre 9 ships per year, not nearly enough to even sustain the Navy’s ship fleet at current levels, let alone to build it up. In FY2012, the Congress forced the DOD to build 10 ships. (By comparison, during the Reagan years, under Secretary Lehman, the Navy built 24 ships per year.)

This fiscal year, the Obama DOD is proposing to build only nine, and has cut 16 ships out of the FY2013-FY2017 FYDP: it proposes to build only 41 ships instead of the 57 it proposed to build just a year ago. Among the casualties are an Arleigh Burke class DDG and a Virginia class submarine, meaning that the 2-subs-per-year submarine construction rate will not be sustained and the industrial base will suffer.

That’s right: 16 ships removed out of the next Five Years Defense Plan.

Moreover, as research by CRS’s naval affairs specialist Ronald O’Rourke demonstrates, under Obama’s meagre shipbuilding rates, the Navy’s submarine, destroyer, and cruiser fleets will shrink dramatically in the next 2 decades, declining significantly below today’s levels and well below the Navy’s requirements. That’s how badly the Navy will decline through Obama’s neglect alone.

And, as O’Rourke points out, that’s without accounting for Obama’s plan to prematurely decommission 7 young cruisers, including the youngest, Port Royal (CG-73).

So no, shipbuilding has not increased under Obama, the Navy’s size has remained almost identical to what it was during the Bush years, and Obama plans to cut it significantly, both through ship decommissionings (i.e. outright cuts) and through neglect (i.e. woefully inadequate shipbuilding rates).

The USN will need to build about 15 ships per year just to preserve its current fleet size and make a modest expansion. 12 ships per year will be required just to keep today’s fleet size, according to the bipartisan Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.

CSBA’s Todd Harrison, OTOH, repeating Obama’s claims about how much Romney would supposedly add to defense spending, has, sadly, made wildly exaggerated claims:

“But Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, has calculated that even if a Romney administration slowly increases the military budget to 4 percent of the G.D.P. over two presidential terms, that would still amount to spending $7.5 trillion over the next decade — or $1.8 trillion more than the Obama administration plans for the Pentagon’s base budget in the same period.”

This is completely false. To spend $7.5 trillion over the next decade, and spend $1.8 trillion more than what Obama plans to, Romney (assuming a compliant Congress) would have to:

  • Spend $750 bn on defense EVERY YEAR on average; and
  • Increase defense spending by $180 billion EVERY YEAR on average over what Obama plans. If the increase were lower than $180 bn in any year, then, under Harrison’s false numbers, it would have to be higher in later years.

But Romney doesn’t plan to do anything of the sort. His proposed increase of defense spending, to 4% of GDP, would be very modest.

Obama’s proposed FY2013 defense budget is $525 bn, amounting to 3.47% of GDP. America’s economy is currently $15.29 trillion, so 4% out of that is $611 bn, an increase of only $86 bn – not even close to the $180 bn annual increase that Harrison claims. And of course, $611 bn isn’t even close to $750 bn.

Harrison wrongly claims that Romney would increase defense spending to $986 bn by FY2022.

Even if the economy grows very quickly during the next decade, 4% of GDP will still amount to a lot less than $750 bn during the entire decade and a lot less that Obama claims. Even under the most optimistic scenarios of GDP growth, Romney won’t come even close to spending as much on defense as Harrison and the Obama campaign falsely claim.

Assuming optimistically that the economy grows to $17 trillion by FY2017, 4% out of such GDP would still be only $680 bn – not even close to $750 bn, let alone $986 bn.

Assuming that GDP grows to $18 trillion by FY2022 (a decade from now), 4% out of such a large GDP would still be only $720 bn – not even close to $750 bn, much less $986 bn.

For 4% of GDP to equal $986 bn by FY2022 (as Harrison claims), the economy would have to grow to 25 x $986 bn = $24.65 trillion. Do the math. Such rapid economic growth isn’t going to happen even under the most optimistic scenarios: the economy would have to grow by more than half during the next decade.

In short, Harrison’s and Obama’s numbers and claims are flat wrong and are deliberately designed to mislead.

I’ve already refuted those false numbers here.

Flournoy falsely claims that Romney would have to deeply cut entitlements to pay for his shipbuilding plans. This is utterly false as well. Much of the funding can come from waste elimination and comprehensive acquisition reform that will dramatically decrease weapon costs and development times – reform that the Obama Administration has utterly failed to enact despite having almost four years to do so. Flournoy herself was, until this year, the DOD’s number three official, and utterly failed to enact any meaningful reforms there. Dov Zakheim, John Lehman, and other defense experts who advise Romney can do much better than that.

Entitlement reform will be necessary, but if it begins next year, it won’t have to entail deep cuts in entitlements and will instead be gradual and orderly. But only if Romney is elected President.

So to sum up:

  • Ship capability is no substitute for numbers. A ship can only be in one place at any given time. The fewer ships you have, the less you can do.
  • Obama has utterly failed to increase shipbuilding rates, and over the next 5 years, he plans to dramatically cut shipbuilding.
  • Under Obama’s plans, the Navy’s submarine, destroyer, and cruiser fleets will decline precipitously in the next 2 decades, and 7 cruisers will be decommissioned prematurely.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/us/politics/romney-plan-for-more-military-ships-is-called-unrealistic.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0

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