"Horses and Bayonets" was a meme the instant it came out of President Obama's mouth during last night's debate. The phrase was part of a rebuttal against Governor Romney's claim that we've had the smallest number of ships since 1916 (the implication being that our Navy is currently weak).
It is true that we have fewer ships today than we did in 1917, but Romney misses the point entirely about the capabilities of the modern Navy and what other countries' capabilities are. This does not just include the number of carrier groups currently deployed (or planned), but also an improvement in strike capabilities of the modern fighter-bomber (or drone) versus those of World War II. (There wasn't much bombing in WW I, so that's a pointless comparison to make.)
So, how does today's US Navy match up? Are we are underpowered as Romney is suggesting?
Clay Dillow elaborates:
The U.S. Navy lists its active ship force at the end of 1916 at 245 total ships, a number that jumped to 342 the following year as the United States joined World War I in progress. At the end of 2011, the Navy officially lists its active ship force at 285 vessels.
So far, so good, Romney. From 1917 forward the number of actively listed ships fluctuates much like you might expect, peaking at the end of 1945 with nearly 7,000 active vessels, and troughing between periods of military conflict (though never dipping back below 300). Until, that is, the 2000s, when the Navy's active fleet shrunk to its lowest level since the 19th century in 2007 under the leadership of George W. Bush. But Romney is comparing apples to oranges. His comparison, for the purposes of measuring the Navy's strength, is meaningless.
Back in the first half of the last century, the Navy was a very different beast than it is today and the official ship accounting tallied a lot of ships that, by today's standards, are not considered part of the active fleet. In 1916 there are battleships (36) and cruisers (30) on the list, sure, but there are also monitors, gunboats, steel gunboats, and torpedo boats--classes of ships that are either antiquated (seen an ironclad lately?) or that have been made redundant by advances in technology.
A single modern carrier group consisting of fewer than ten ships could easily sink the entire 1916 U.S. fleet. So not only are total active fleet numbers counted differently in 2012 than they were in 1916, but comparing the two doesn't even give you a sense of what you really want to measure: capability against a militarily sophisticated foe.
In his book Wired for War, Peter W. Singer notes that during World War II the Allies needed roughly 108 planes to take out each target. They sometimes attacked targets over and over again until they were finally able to destroy them, as their unguided bombs and mid-century bombsight technologies weren't exactly surgical in their precision.
In Afghanistan in 2001, each warplane averaged 4.07 destroyed targets per mission. Since World War I, technology has completely inverted the equation; instead of sorties per target, we now talk in terms of targets per sortie.
In other words, there are plenty of things for the presidential candidates to argue about this time around, but the strength of America's Navy--especially as it compares to the strength of our Navy in 1916--is not one of them. America currently has 11 carrier strike groups at its disposal (we had zero aircraft carriers in 1916). That is the same number as all the other active aircraft carriers in the world combined.
If we're simply counting how many ships are floating in the water, Romney's math is correct, but that's not how you measure the strength of a modern Navy.
I think MSNBC is doing the fact checking for the debate, Not sure though. Thanks for this, I was beginning to think this was a science magazine.
Another biased, useless popsci article. You dont seriously believe that Romney believe's that our 1917 forces can take on and defeat our modern forces do you? I think the point he was trying to make is peace through strength and not that our current technology is still back in 1917. You actually reasearched all these stats????? I'd like to put the writer of this article and popsci in a small room in a life or death struggle with a marine. I'll even give the writer a gun and the marine gets only a bayonet, which are still standard issue by the way. Lets do some science popsci!!!!! And leave the politics to the politicians. I get enough spin and nonsense from the so called news sites. One more political story out of your stupid sorry arses and you lose at least one reader .... me! I'm sure your competitors wouldnt mind adding a reader. Holy shitzva, ya give these guys an ear and they gotta spew nonsense all the time. GET SOME SCIENCE DONE!!!!!
Today's magic is tomorrow's technology.
What is this garbage? I made an account just so I could let the popsci world know that I will no longer be visiting this website because time after time I keep seeing politics come up where it has no place. I've had enough of it this time.
a faithful reader for 3 years.
If there is anyone I'd want doing my fact-checking, it's the nerds a Popsci. Besides, It is possible to read this article for the sheer enjoyment of LEARNING SOMETHING!! That's really why I come to Popsci. To learn. Thank you, other commenters, for ruining even that for me.
Looking past the horrible grammar, image compression artifacts, and the fact that nothing in the article or the infographic makes any kind of meaningful comparison between the strength of the U.S. Navy now as compared to the U.S. Navy in 1916 or any other country, this article does not answer the question it's trying to ask.
Let's start with the random question that pops up in the middle of the article (which is NOT the question in the subtitle). Is the U.S. Navy underpowered?
The article and infographics say no by comparing the size of the U.S. Navy to that of the 1916 U.S. Navy and by comparing the number of U.S. aircraft carriers with all of those around the world. Neither answer the question. The modern U.S. Navy is tasked with projecting U.S. military power everywhere in the world, which neither the 1916 U.S. Navy nor any other country in the world needs to do. Comparing them is useless.
Then, the article tries to explain how modern technology has allowed the Navy to be more effective at its mission with fewer ships and aircraft. This doesn't answer the question of whether or not the Navy is underpowered. All this shows is that technology has made the Navy more effective.
A modern carrier strike group could take out the entire 1916 U.S. Navy? Who would have known? Let's go build a 2108 aircraft carrier so we can replace our current navy. If you can't, that comparison serves no purpose.
The question at the heart of the presidential debate is whether or not the U.S. military has the resources it needs to do what it needs to do. Comparing the number of ships, the capabilities of each ship, or the trends in naval warfare DOES NOT answer this question.
Romney is saying that the Navy isn't as big as it was planned to be or as big as it needs to be to respond to threats. He's right on the first one and maybe right on the second one. That's what the presidential debate was talking about yesterday—the question of whether or not the navy has the resources to do its job today, after a round of cuts. All this article says is that the U.S. Navy is big (compared to other countries) and it is more technologically advanced compared to the 1916 U.S. Navy.
Oh no, what are they going to do if they lose if they lose two or three readers? Those 300 and something thousand other people just might fill the void if they are lucky.
some interesting facts but really popsci? this is ridiculously biased
You are SO right. I don't think a non biased SCIENCE site should have ANYTHING to do with the election. Period. I hope the backlash from this article cuts the sites viewership just so it gets through their thick skull that whatever idiot put this up deserves to be fired or at least punished. Science DOESN'T equal polotics.
First off, this honestly doesn't belong here.
Since it is.. Actually, I had something else typed out, but I'll just refer to madscientist8. He said it better than I did.
I had to make an account to answer all these greedy old people's comments, to many Romney fanatics. Anyways this was an awesome Article outlining the difference in military power between two time periods.
Science is about empowering people with knowledge and getting the facts straight. That's what the author did.
I don't get how this was biased, if someone of authority compares something outrageously stupid, would I want to sit around and agree without any doubt. Heck no, I'd want the facts! So I appreciate the author for doing research.
That wasn't the point, for me at least. The point was that this is a SCIENCE website not a political blog. In my mind every article should be rotted in science not someones own tool to put out their political views.
What's it to you if I believe in God? If you're right it doesn't matter, but if I'm right it matters more than the world.
How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? - Athiest Penn Jillette
A ship can only be in one place at a time... the number of ships is equal in importance to the technology on board... a point that the pundits missed.
And no, PopSci should not be writing politically charged articles or expressing political opinions. But I guess we're gonna have to live with it and skip past the drivel.
China launches new carrier. Did the US carrier force get 9% less capable in a relative sense?
While an F22 with smart weapons has a much higher capability than a Tomcat with a belly bomb, it also costs a little bit more.
Britain and France have some sophisticate weapons systems but they couldn't handle Gaddafi w/o US help.
If you go to war with the second best weapons you usually lose.
GGenua, etc. The fact is the US Navy as it stands today is stronger than any of the worlds navy's many times over. China for example has only one carrier, a ship retrofitted to become a carrier. Romney wants to spend far more money than the Pentagon has requested. He also lives in the past, the real threat these days is cyber-terror. This article simply is pointing out it is not about the number of ships but what their capabilities are. If you are concerned about "peace through strength" rest assured we are the strongest military the world has ever seen and more powerful than any other military on earth. We spend more on our military than the GNP of most countries, and more than the top 10 countries that follow us in spending combined.
a PopSci reader of over 30 years
What's really fascinating about this article is that although the title contains the word "bayonet", the body of the article does not. Why? Could it be that that aspect of the story doesn't cast POTUS in a favorable light? See, Presidnet Obama's comment notwithstanding, the two infantry services, US Army and US Marine Corps, each separately and both together, currently issue more bayonets than their respective incarnations did in the year 1916. Here's the research: www.nationalreview.com/corner/331392/bayonets-and-submarines-charles-c-w-cooke#
To me, this ommission constitutes direct and convincing evidence of bias. Shame on you, Martha Harbison, Emily Elert, Clay Dillow.
As for the other stats, even though Pres. Obama did speak to the correct criteria for evaluating the adequacy of the forces at our disposal (capability, not numbers), that is only half of the story. The US deploys multiple Naval task forces around the world. Each one has to be able to project adequate power to accomplish its mission while defending itself from all the relevant threats. The number 313 (ships that the Navy wanted) is based on the Naval Staff looking at the deployment commitments, maintenance schedules, training requirements, surge requirements, and a number of other criteria.
If the Navy is hit hard by the sequestration, as Gov. Romney argues, they will not have the budget and the ship counts to fulfill their projected deployment commitments, maintain the fleet in a combat ready condition, and to train the sailors, airmen, Marines, and their commanding officers to the keen edge of combat readiness required to win on the modern battlefield.
And so one of two things will happen. Either the US will have to forgo one or more missions, or we will deploy insufficient forces, insufficeintly supplied, trained or led. In the former case, the US will lose strategically, in the latter, we will lose our warriors needlessly and may not accomplish the mission anyway.
Neither alternative is acceptable to the Romney/Ryan team, and it shouldn't be accaptable to any patriotic American.
PS. It really is true that those who don't know (or choose to ignore) history, are doomed to repeat it. Remember Jimmy Carter, and how he hollowed out the DoD? And the consequences thereof? Well, judging by his performance last night, Pres. Obama looks to outdo Pres. Carter in this department by a country mile.
@rcc_2000. As I argue above, just "capability" understates the challenge by a large margin. If the US Navy was pitted one-on-one against any other, we will win decisively, quickly, and with low casualties. The problem with this argument is that this is not what the mission of the US NAvy is. It is highly unlikely that the entire US Navy be deployed in any particular area of the world to fight just one opponent. We just have too many fires to tend around the world.
What is far more likely, is that a small sub-group of the Navy, such as a single Carrier Battle Group, or an even smaller task force, will be attacked by someone and will have to deal with the issues at hand before reinforcements arrive from Honolulu, Okinawa, Seattle, or Virginia. In that scenario, the taskforce having just one or two extra hulls might make the difference between winning and losing.
For example, the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy now fields anti-ship ballistic misslies with terminal guidance and satellite control systems. These are huge ship-killers targeted specifically at the US carriers. If they let loose a salvo, then even a Carrier Battle Group, let alone a smaller task force, will have a hard time surviving. An extra Ticonderoga or two or a 3-4 Arleigh Burkes would make a difference between being able to withstand such an attack and losing a big-deck nuclear carrier.
For another example, Iran currently fields several very quiet Russian diesel subs (Kilo class). If Iranians ever figure out how to use them properly, our guys could be in real trouble in the Gulf. A few extra anti-submarine and anti-mine platforms would be a real godsend in that situation.
In general, cutting the Navy seems like a penny wise but depply poound foolish idea.
If you're still not convinced, please read Alfred Thayer Mahan's (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Thayer_Mahan) classic book on Naval Strategy (www.amazon.com/Influence-Power-upon-History-1660-1805/dp/0831757248/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1351043563&sr=8-7&keywords=alfred+thayer+mahan), and it's effect on world history. Written over a hundred years ago, it's still required reading in most of the Naval Academies of the world.
Romney is simply echoing what many military leaders and geoplical stratagists have noted. I've read lots of books that reminded me that the US Navy keeps the worlds sea lanes open. The only reason international trade happens between most nations of the world is because of the US navy. It also helps us to have allies accessible when the next enemy tries to start gathering allies throughout the world. For this, you have to have enough boats to cover the earth. Asia is threatening to fall into the control of our enemies because we do not have enough navy presence there. There is no other way to do it besides having more boats.
Romney's point is real and no thanks for noting that a simple count of boats does not reflect the whole picture. We already knew that.
why do you guys get so anal about semantics. The point president Obama was trying to make was that certain technologies like bayonets get out of date therefore they are no longer needed. That there may be more bayonets in the army today is of no import. I'm sure you had to look that up and if you didn't notice Pres Obama didn't have a computer in front of him during the debate. rcc_2000 said it right. Our navy is many times stronger than anyone other countries. Our military is so ridiculously strong it seems more like we are planning to take over the world. We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined. I don't understand why all these other people are saying the navy has to be able to project power throughout the world. Where does it say the responsibility of the US is to dominate the world! And for anyone criticizing the author since when does science have to be separate from politics. Should we stop reporting on global warming because some republicans say it isn't true? What about evolution? Science transcends politics and when some one makes such an idiotic statement it is scientist responsibility to call them out. It is not their fault that these idiots are usually republican.
I'm not sure who the "you guys" are, @adwuga. Me, I'm just correcting the misleading and biased info in this article and in one of the comments. What's wrong with that?
Re: bayonets: and my whole point is that POTUS is wrong about bayonets. They are not outmoded. They are still, well, the cutting edge of infantry weapons, if you will. And the fact that our Commander in Chief thinks otherwise, even in a political context, is a strong indicator of his cluelessness and incompetence about the Armed Forces and the technoogy currently used.
Re: Navy around the world: do please educate yourself about the consequences of not doing so. In the previous message, I provided the link to the seminal work on Naval Strategy by AT. Mahan, where he argues most convincingly that failiure to appreciate the influence of a strong Navy for a maritime economic power is usually followed, and very swiftly, by its economic and political decline. If you think AT. Mahan is wrong, do please share your argument. Please be aware that most countries that bother to have Navay and a Naval institution of higher learning believe his arguments to such an extent that the book is required reading for all of theyr Naval officers. If you think that America could use some declining, I would respectfully disagree. And I hope so would most Americans. Perhaps some folks in the WHite House might agree, but that's the point of this election, isn't it?
Arm waving about what other countries do or do not spend, without first addressing the actual arguments advanced by me and others in this thread is not very convicing. Just taking the President at his word, and focusing on "capabilities", in the context of my argument above, should make clear that "capabilities" must include numbers. Otherwise they are meaningless. Just think about it for a second, and follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion. If we just build one huge ship that has more missles that all the other naval vessels of the world combined, do you really think that it alone would be able to accomplish all the various missions the US Navy faces? No? Why not?
And if the President wishes to draw down the Navy by 100 ships, as he does under the sequestration, which he signed into law without protest, then his competence in leading this country can and will be quetioned. See my argument above.
Finally, re "anal about semantics" (AAS): I won't even go as far as to argue about the semantics (or lack thereof) of that statement. Please see the definition of the word semantics in any dictionary or Wiki you happen to have at hand. I don't think this word means what you think it means. I'll just mention that you seem to think it's OK to be AAS as long as it's agains Gov. Romney (as the above article attempts, unsuccessfully, to do), but as soon as the tables are turned, it's no longer OK.
ps. Oh, sorry, forgot your last point. Yeah, I'm not the one arguing against PopSci jumping into politics. I have no problem with them doing so. I just wish they did it impartially, or at least competently. They did neither.
@brtbrt It is highly unlikely that a small force attack that you describe would ever occur. It would be suicide on the part of the aggressor nation. In the case of China doing a "peal Harbor" attack, the response would be the air-sea battle strategy. If Iran were stupid enough to attack a US warship the result would be a very decisive counter strike that would cripple Iran. A few more hulls, as you say will have no consequence on the outcome. Additionally, in the 2013 budget we have $12.8 Billion for ship building they include
• John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), the second CVN 78 Ford-class aircraft carrier.
• Two SSN 774 Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines.
• Two DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA Aegis destroyers.
• Four Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), split evenly between both types being built.
• One Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).
Ships are being built.
It is far more likely an aggressor nation would launch a cyber attack on the US rather than a conventional attack. We need to stop the "fighting the last war" mentality and start thinking about the next conflicts. If history teaches us anything it is that those who prepare for the strategies of the last war are left at a disadvantage. Before WWII the naval powers raced to build larger "dreadnoughts" battleships, which at the time were the centerpiece of most modern navies. But by the end of that war it was the aircraft carrier that was the jewel of the navy. The issue is that these ships cost a lot of money, and it does not make sense to build ships that we do not need. As we stand now and for the foreseeable future, our Navy is leagues ahead of its next closest rival. There has never been a time in modern history that the disparity between the #1 and #2 navies.
The bottom line is I advocate a strong navy, but I believe that is exactly what we have. Spending trillions for what we do not need will not make us stronger, it will make us poorer. The last thing we need is an arms race against ourselves.
First off, I think the article is appropriate here and I appreciated it. I've been a reader for 30+ years. Secondly, as a Marine I have to clear up one point, bayonets are trained with in boot camp. You won't see them in the fleet. They are not a part of our combat load out. As far as I know, the Army hasn't used them since before Iraq. So I'm sorry brtbrt, but its not the Commander in Chief that is wrong, it is you. " The cutting edge of infantry weapons" is cute and all, but its completely wrong. Try telling that to a group of veterans and let me know how it turns out.
PS the President does not want to draw down the Navy by 100 ships under the sequestration. Sequestration was a bipartisan mechanism to get both sides to agree on a budget. Sequestration, is political brinkmanship and likely to be resolved in the 11th hour. The question is do we devote resources to build up our military with assets it does not want our need because the politicians want it but the military does not? This reminds me of the point in the Afghan war In 2011, Rep Young (FL) resisted a request by the Pentagon to transfer $863 million in funds from Humvee production to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the conflict in Afghanistan. AM General, which makes the Humvee, has been a contributor to Young's campaigns. The military noted they did not need the Humvees but needed the money for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and body armor. Of course the Representative got his way.
BTW what Obama said about Horses and Bayonets: "We Have Fewer Horses and Bayonets” Than We Did in 1916. He did not say we did not have any.
I have been a faithful reader for 2 years now. Recently, Popsci is posting non science related articles which makes me think they are loosing money so they hire cheap writers and researchers to create political, etc articles to trigger nerves and make people come to this site and just to comment...This is a myopic strategy and in the long run you will lose....Popsci, please fire these writers of yours....I read a lot of scientific websites and you are forcing me to not visit here anymore.....
Just to comment on the "100 sortie" phrase...if it was an atomic bomb which we used before...1 sortie carrying that atomic bomb can destroy 1 target and it's neighboring areas (which I can assume is enemy territory), fortunately now, we don't use those anymore....so Martha Harbison, Emily Elert, Clay Dillow your argument has holes....I hope Popsci will review the articles you wrote and then hopefully decide along with the readers interests....
I have never understood why when an article or story comes out which contradicts a political candidate, it is immediately biased. Just the other day I was speaking to someone who thought the BLS was biased because the unemployment rate dropped. Though when in late 2011 when the unemployment rate spiked for one month, he was throwing the BLS around praising the facts. It is unbelievable.
Having said that, what I got from this article was that the US Navy has far more capabilities and is more efficient than it was in 1917. I believe everyone knows that is a no brainer. It also, though in a rather weak way, explains that in just 40-60 years, our effectiveness has greatly increased. I got that from the WWII style planes vs the F-15. In addition, it explains that with greater efficiency, the military is able to do more with less. One commenter pointed out that one ship cannot be in two places at once. True, but our vessels and planes today have greater range and there for be spread out more. They are able to cover 100% of the planet with 20% less. Efficiency is the goal we should be perusing.
Lastly, I whole heartily agree with rcc_2000 that the next greatest threat this nation is going to encounter is cyber warfare. The world already knows they cannot match our military might, but they now understand they have a chance if they can cut off our cyber network. That is our weakness as well as our over confidence in traditional warfare.
I should also point out that even though the information in this article has many interesting points, you also have to look at additional information not included. It is called doing research. Themarksman points out the difference in efficieny with the use of the atomic bomb. That is an example of technology change. Good or bad, it makes a difference. Before you condemn an article, I advise you step back and ask "Is the article biased, or am I?"
For those claiming this is not a science article, it should be noted that it was talking about the change in military technology over the past 100+ years.
I always find it amusing how people get so worked up over a little bit of politics... just plan silly. Also bayonets are not a big part of the military anymore and have no idea why people would think they are still widely used.
well put!!! +10 to you sir
BTW PopSci could we get a point/forum system liek reddit/imgur ?
To everyone that responds with "there is a problem with the US spending more than the next 10 countries combined in military spending" i say there is nothing wrong with that....as long as we can afford it....there is the kicker.
"bayonet" are not "cutting edge" neither are they essential to infantry warfare, yes there is nothing better for CQB (close quarter battle) hand to hand, but a butt stroke works just as well.
@adwuga no one says we need to dominate, but the constitution specifically outlines the defense of our maritime trade, specifically article 1 section 8.
I think the point of this article is that in today's modern age the size of a naval fleet is less important than the capabilities of the ships in the fleet. Compared to the ships of the past our current naval ships have much greater range, accuracy and sophistication. A ship from 30 years ago would have to get very close to a target to engage it. Today a ship can track a target from 100s of miles away with a number of methods and launch a cruise missile to destroy it. You really don't need lots of ships when you have a those capabilities. As for the political undertones I think there is more of that in some of these comments than in the article. Popsci is simply pointing out that the comment made in the debate about the number of ships in the fleet does not have much bearing on the strength of the US Navy.