The most memorable line of Monday night’s debate was President Obama’s pointed “horses and bayonets” jab at Mitt Romney for questioning what Romney said was a shrinking U.S. Navy.
Obama responded that Romney “hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works. ” He added, “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.”
Horses and bayonets quickly became a Twitter punchline, but while they may no longer be needed for bayonet charges, it turns out the Pentagon still owns a hefty arsenal of bayonets.
The Army said today it has 419,155 bayonets in its inventory. The Marine Corps has another 195,334 bayonets that it bought in 2004 and it plans on buying 175,061 more bayonets this year. A Marine official says it’s not accurate to add the two totals together as the new ones will include replacements for ones already in service as well as additional stocks.
Bayonets are standard issue for Marines deployed to combat areas, though they don’t necessarily carry them with them when they’re on patrol.
Several soldiers who spoke to ABC News said that deploying with bayonets to Iraq and Afghanistan varied from unit to unit. While not a requirement one soldier said they were available if needed.
However, a 2011 Stars and Stripes article quoted a former Army official as saying bayonets had not been issued to soldiers deploying in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010 the Army dropped bayonet training for its recruits in basic training.
The Army also reported today that it has 176 horses. The horses kept at Fort Myer, Va., are used mainly for ceremonial duties at Arlington Cemetery and the Capital region. There are also some horses located at Fort Hood, Texas.
The Marine Mountain Warfare Training Center in California trains Marines in using horses, mules and donkeys to carry supplies in mountainous regions.
Romney has proposed increasing the Navy to more than 300 ships from the current fleet size of 285 ships. A Defense official pointed out today that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan presented to Congress earlier this year will result in 300 ships by 2019.
However, the official also said that while numbers are important when talking about a globally deployed Navy it’s important to look beyond the numbers at a ship’s capabilities when it’s deployed.
“When you look at an Arliegh Burke Class destroyer it’s missile defense capable, it can fire cruise missiles, it can conduct anti-submarine warfare, it has a gun on front for anti-surface warfare. It can patrol the coast of not only the U.S. but off the coast of other countries. That’s a pretty capable platform,” the official said.
Adding that these destroyers can also carry helicopters the official said, “It’s not single use, that’s been the evolution of not just the Navy but of our platforms as well.”
The official said today’s ships can carry out the capabilities of the 600 ship Navy envisioned by the Reagan administration.