With the Pentagon facing cuts to a tiny portion of its budget, the right wing is in full freakout mode and they’re lying to support the claim that we need to spend more, not less, on weapons. PolitiFact takes Mitt Romney to task for the standard lie we’re hearing these days, that “our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.”
After noting that this is only measuring total numbers of ships or planes, not capability or technology, the site explains in great detail why this is an utterly dishonest argument:
But what do those numbers mean? Not much, a variety of experts told us.
Counting the number of ships or aircraft is not a good measurement of defense strength because their capabilities have increased dramatically in recent decades. Romney’s comparison “doesn’t pass ‘the giggle test,’ ” said William W. Stueck, a historian at the University of Georgia.
Consider what types of naval ships were used in 1916 and 2011. The types of ships active in both years, such as cruisers and destroyers, are outfitted today with far more advanced technology than what was available during World War I. More importantly, the U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers (plus the jets to launch from them), 31 amphibious ships, 14 submarines capable of launching nuclear ballistic missiles and four submarines capable of launching Cruise missiles — all categories of vessels that didn’t exist in 1916.
As for the Air Force, many U.S. planes may be old, but they “have been modernized with amazing sensors and munitions even when the airframes themselves haven’t been,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. Human factors matter, too. “The vast superiority of the U.S. Air Force has little to do with number of planes, but with vastly superior training, in-flight coordination and control, as well as precision targeting and superior missiles,” said Charles Knight, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Institute.
Ruehrmund and Bowie write in their report that “although the overall force level is lower, the capabilities of the current force in almost all respects far exceed that of the huge Air Force of the 1950s. Today’s Air Force can maintain surveillance of the planet with space and air-breathing systems; strike with precision any point on the globe within hours; deploy air power and joint forces with unprecedented speed and agility; and provide high-bandwidth secure communications and navigation assistance to the entire joint force.”
Increasingly crucial today are pilotless aerial vehicles, some of which are more commonly known as drones.
“The Air Force now buys more unmanned than manned aircraft every year, and that trend is not going to change,” said Lance Janda, a historian at Cameron University. “Within our lifetime, I think you’ll see an end to manned combat aircraft, because unmanned planes are more capable and a lot cheaper.”
For a sense of comparison, in 1947, “it took dozens of planes and literally hundreds of bombs to destroy a single target because they were so inaccurate,” said Todd Harrison, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “But thanks to smart bombs and stealthy aircraft, today it only takes a single plane and often a single bomb to destroy a target.”
Or as John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, puts it: “Would anyone care to trade today’s Navy or Air Force for either service at any point in the 20th century?”
This is pure demagoguery, designed to make the ignorant masses fear something that need not be feared. And even if all the proposed defense cuts actually take place, which is unlikely given our absurd political culture, it would reduce the amount of defense spending in this country from about 47% of all military spending on the planet to maybe 45%. Oh, I’m so terrified!