FACT CHECK: Romney misfires on defense

October 8, 2011 - 2:20 AM
APTOPIX Romney 2012

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks to Citadel cadets and supporters during a campaign speech inside Mark Clark Hall on The Citadel campus in Charleston, S.C., Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a foreign policy speech to cadets at South Carolina's The Citadel, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promised Friday to reverse non-existent "massive defense cuts" and pledged to deploy missiles and ships that already are largely in place. A closer look at some of his statements, and how they compare to the facts:

ROMNEY: "As President, on day one, I will focus on rebuilding America's economy and I will reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts. Time and again, we have seen that attempts to balance the budget by weakening our military only lead to a far higher price, not only in treasure, but in blood." Romney also has vowed to increase the size of the military by 100,000 troops, a move he says is needed to reduce the hardship of long and frequent deployments.

THE FACTS: There have been no "massive defense cuts" under Obama, although he has slowed the projected rate of increase and in April asked the Pentagon to identify another $400 billion in reductions over the next 12 years. When he took office, the defense budget was $513 billion, not counting another $153 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the budget year that ended Sept. 30, the figure was $530 billion, with an additional $159 billion to pay for the wars.

For the current fiscal year, Obama requested $553 billion for the defense budget, exclusive or war costs. But in a deal worked out by Congress and the White House as part of a deficit-reduction plan in August, he was forced to come down to $513 billion.

As for troop numbers, Obama's previous defense secretary, Robert Gates, put the Army and Marine Corps on a path to reducing troop numbers to adjust to the winding down of combat in Iraq and plans to reduce troops in Afghanistan. The Army is to drop from its current 569,000 to 547,000 by September 2013, and then to 520,000 by 2015. The Marines are to drop from their current total of 202,000 to a figure yet to be specified but in the neighborhood of 186,000 by 2015.

Adding another 100,000 troops is expensive, and it's not clear from Romney's remarks what they would do. The Marine Corps, for example, actually wants to cut its size. It has traditionally numbered around 175,000, and was bumped up to 202,000 temporarily to address its long "Army-like" missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once those are over it wants to get back to its core mission, which is not extended land warfare.

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ROMNEY: In his first 100 days in office, pledges to "reverse the hollowing of our Navy and announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15. I will begin reversing Obama-era cuts to national missile defense and prioritize the full deployment of a multilayered national ballistic missile defense system. ... I will enhance our deterrent against the Iranian regime by ordering the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces, one in the Eastern Mediterranean and one in the Persian Gulf region."

THE FACTS: The number of ships in the Navy has been declining steadily since the 1980s. Ten years ago, the fleet numbered 316. Warships have not been a priority for the Pentagon over a decade when the military has been fighting small-scale wars with minimal combat at sea. For the last several years the Navy has said it needs a minimum of 313 ships to perform its missions. It now has 284 ships, up from a low of 278 in 2007.

Despite Romney's implication, there already is a full-time carrier presence in the Persian Gulf and has been for many years. There is no full-time presence in the Mediterranean, although carriers are frequently there for deployments in the Middle East.

A national missile defense already is deployed and being expanded. There is a total of 30 ground-based interceptors based in Alaska and California, along with a network of radars and command and control stations to operate it. In addition, there are 24 Navy Aegis ships with a missile defense capability already in service.