Obama: ‘We Have These Things Called Aircraft Carriers, Where Planes Land on Them’

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 23, 2012 | 6:53pm EDT

U.S.S Langley, the first American aircraft carrier, commissioned 1922. (U.S. Navy archives)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama, chiding Gov. Mitt Romney in response to comments he made on military cuts, said during Monday’s third and final debate that the American military has changed since 1916.

“We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them,” Obama said. “We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Ironically, military historians say that both aircraft carriers and submarines aren't particularly new -- they first came into wide use back in World War I, around 1916.

And nuclear subs have been around for nearly 60 years.

Obama’s remarks came following Romney’s assertion that automatic cuts to defense spending will result in the smallest Navy in modern history.

“Our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917,” Romney said. “The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.”

“I will not cut our military budget by a trillion dollars, which is a combination of the budget cuts the president has, as well as the sequestration cuts,” he added.  “That, in my view, is making — is making our future less certain and less secure.”

The president responded in the exchange on the looming cuts in military spending, with the following:

“First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed,” Obama said. “It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

“The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it,” he said.

U.S. submarines in 1917, during World War I. (U.S. Navy archives)

“But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works,” Obama said. “You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, 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,” Obama said. “We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

“And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships,” he added.  “It’s ‘What are our capabilities?’”

Meanwhile, military historians say that both aircraft carriers and submarines have been part of the military arsenal for a long time.

Experimental submarines were used during both the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. And American engineer John Holland created the first modern submarine around 1900.

But extensive use of both aircraft carriers and submarines dates back to the First World War – more than 94 years ago.

U.S. Navy historians say it was the British who first introduced aircraft carriers, and both the British and the Germans were the first to widely use submarines -- again, during the First World War.

According to the U.S. Navy: “When World War I broke out among the European powers in early August 1914, the U.S. Navy had 29 submarines in commission.”

The first U.S. flat-top, the U.S.S. Langley, was commissioned in 1922 – 90 years ago.

Meanwhile, the U.S.S. Nautilus, which was the world's first nuclear-powered submarine, was launched in 1954 – 58 years ago.

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