Fact check: How big is the U.S. Navy?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a debate with President Obama at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Critics jumped on Mitt Romney’s statement in the debate that “our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917.”

Lawrence Korb, a former assistant Defense secretary in the Reagan administration, said on Twitter that it showed a “staggering lack of knowledge.”

According to Romney, the Navy needs 313 ships to carry out its mission. But that figure was based on a 2005 review of force structure that Navy officials have since revised.


In April, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that the Navy could carry out its mission with 300 ships, a reduction in fleet size that he expected to reach by 2019, based on a new defense strategy that focuses more on the Middle East and the Pacific.

“I think that a lot of this criticism [of the number of ships] is based on either incomplete or inaccurate or outdated information, or a failure to see beyond the short term, or a willingness to protect the status quo in spite of the changing world,” Mabus said.

Obama said that Romney’s focus on the size of the Navy was misplaced.

“Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama said, to laughter.

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