During the third and final presidential debate, President Obama ridiculed Governor Romney’s arguments about the military. “Governor, 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 underwater, nuclear submarines,” Obama quipped.
If Obama is not careful, he may soon need to revise his comments about aircraft carriers. While the Clinton administration found that the United States needed 12 aircraft carriers to adequately project power and fulfill both wartime and peaceful missions, that number slipped to 11 under the George W. Bush administration. Earlier this month, the USS Enterprise, the navy’s second-oldest ship, finished its final deployment and will be retired, leaving the Pentagon with 10. The problem is that when numbers dwindle, there is no room for error. The USS Nimitz, which has just come off of a major refurbishment, was supposed to deploy early next year, but now major mechanical problems reportedly will delay that by months, with an immediate impact on American force posture. Meanwhile, the USS Eisenhower will return to Norfolk for repairs to its flight deck before it can return to the Persian Gulf.
As the fleet ages—and with the uncertainty regarding on-time delivery of the USS Gerald Ford (due in 2015) and the USS John F. Kennedy (due in 2020)—the United States Navy may soon find itself in a real bind. We may have these things called aircraft carriers, as Obama condescendingly remarked, but someone ought to remind the president that there have got to be enough in working order if they are to serve the purpose for which they were built.