Why Rubio's Alarms on the U.S. Military Don’t Add Up

Republican candidate stakes out foreign policy ground by promising to confront China with muscular armed forces

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio sounded the alarm about the state of U.S. armed forces in a foreign-policy speech today. But his claims and campaign promises don't account for the impact of improvements in U.S. military technology or in some cases their production schedule.

 Rubio, a Florida senator, said the U.S. Navy is "now smaller than at any time since before World War I" and the Air Force "has the smallest and oldest combat force in its history."

 Yet the numbers of ships and planes don't define U.S. military capabilities.

 Modern warships, notably aircraft carriers and submarines, are far more effective and lethal than their World War II predecessors.

 The Air Force is preparing to field the costliest jet fighter ever built, Lockheed Martin's F-35, and already has the second generation F-22 with stealth characteristics. Advances in precision guidance and intelligence collection make even older aircraft such as the F-15 and F-16 far more capable than the jets that preceded them.

 When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made the same argument -- that the U.S. Navy is smaller than at any time since 1917 -- during a 2012 campaign debate, President Barack Obama responded with a mocking rejoinder.

 "We also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed," Obama said. "We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.''

 Other promises by Rubio merely affirm existing Pentagon priorities.

 He said that if elected president, his administration would "build Virginia-class submarines at a rate of two per year." That is the current production schedule for the submarines.

 The Republican presidential candidate also pointed to the peril for the U.S. as China has "invested heavily" in space warfare.

 The U.S. also is investing heavily in space warfare, particularly defending intelligence, navigation and communication satellites, but much of that spending is classified.

 Pointing to computer hacking incidents such as an intrusion into federal government personnel records, Rubio charged that Obama "has failed to respond adequately to the unprecedented breaches of our corporate and government computer networks."

 U.S. intelligence officials say the government has responded repeatedly to Chinese hacking, but that those actions remain classified to prevent the Chinese from learning more about U.S. capabilities and to try to avoid an escalating cyberwar that neither side might be able to contain. The officials spoke in recent weeks on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

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