President Barack Obama ended up revealing an astonishing level of ignorance about the state of military technology during the presidential debate in Boca Raton, FL Monday night.
The U.S. Commander-in-Chief misspoke about bayonets. He misspoke about horses. He misspoke about the size of the U.S. Navy. He misspoke about the makeup of the Navy. And the whole time, he thought he was teaching his opponent Mitt Romney a lesson.
Obama mocked Gov. Romney's concerns about the diminished number of ships in the U.S. Navy by saying, "I think Gov. Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time studying how our military works."
Obama continued, trying his best to make the GOP challenger look foolish: "[Romney] mentioned that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well... we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go under water, nuclear submarines." Obama added that it's not about "counting ships," it's about "our capabilities."
These comments rang out with a snarky condescension that was only surpassed by their complete lack of factual support.
While the Army discontinued traditional bayonet training in 2010, the USMC still trains Marines with bayonets and issues them as standard equipment. The Army has also begun training soldiers in a different style of bayonet use--not affixed to the end of a rifle but as a secondary melee weapon.
To make bayonet training relevant again, the Army got rid of the bayonet assault course, in which soldiers fixed a bayonet to the end of a rifle, ran towards a target while yelling and then rammed the bayonet into the target center. Instead, soldiers learn in combatives training how to use a knife or bayonet if someone grabs their primary weapon.
Some users on Twitter have claimed that, by virtue of the USMC still using bayonets, there actually are more bayonets in use than 1916, when the army had between 100,000 and 140,000 enlisted members. As of 2010, the Corps boasted 203,000 active duty members and 40,000 reserve marines.
Regarding horses, a statue of a member of the U.S. Special Forces on horseback was just unveiled at Ground Zero in New York City. When our Special Forces invaded Afghanistan post-9/11, many did so on horseback. I personally remember sitting for a lecture in Austin, TX in 2005, given by a member of one of the first Special Forces teams to arrive in Afghanistan. He talked at length about their reliance upon horses.
As to the size of the Navy, Romney's remarks about fleet size were centered around a concern that U.S. naval forces would in the near future be unable to operate in multiple regions of the globe simultaneously. While Obama dismissed this out of hand, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mark Ferguson reached a similar evaluation months before the debate:
“Our role is really about the flexibility of forces, that they can move to various regions, both in this region in the Gulf and outside the Gulf... Should sequestration be enacted, the Navy would not be able to support the current national defense strategy and it would cause a reduction in the size of the fleet to the point that we would have to relook at the strategy,” Ferguson said. The Navy “would be reduced both in size and in its presence around the globe.”
Even at the beginning of Obama's term as President, the Navy had a goal of producing a 313-ship fleet by 2013. It wasn't until 2012, after three years of unfulfilled promises of economic recovery, that the target was abandoned. What happened between 2009 and 2012 that made the Obama administration decide that it could downgrade the size of the U.S. Navy further yet maintain its ability to operate in multiple arenas simultaneously?
Lastly, and most succinctly, submarines are boats, not ships. Obama got this one wrong as well.
Perhaps President Obama "maybe hasn't spent enough time studying how our military works"?