On Wednesday April 22, the Washington Post‘s “Fact Checker” argued that the current and future gulf between the number of Navy ships and the missions assigned to the U.S.’s sea services is a “zombie claim.” Mythical, that is. The Post wanted to upend warnings that Lindsey Graham and Scott Walker, among others, have made that the number of ships in the fleet today is roughly similar to the number of combatants in 1915. The Post article noted that today’s U.S. ships are more capable than those of a century ago. This is correct. The Post, however, overlooked that the ships of other potential adversary navies—such as China’s and Russia’s—are also far more capable than they were 100 years ago. The maximum range of the world’s most powerful battleships’ large guns during World War I was approximately 10 miles. By comparison, far smaller combatants than battleships in China’s navy, such as corvettes and frigates, are now equipped with missiles that can strike another ship at distances up to 110 miles.
The types of ships in any particular navy do matter—as the Post observes. But in a relatively well balanced fleet, such as the U.S. Navy’s, numbers remain an important measure of seapower. Our numbers are headed down. Senator Graham’s, Governor Walker’s, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s warnings have nothing to do with zombies. “Walking dead” is a truer description of a nation that finds itself unexpectedly engaged in a conflict with defenses that are much weaker than what it had been led to believe.