Those of you who watched last night's debate saw the President deliver what he apparently took to be a stinging rebuke to his opponent. In fact it was a shocking argument.
You mention 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 has changed... We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines. And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships.
Aircraft carriers and boomer submarines are both good examples of just why a larger Navy is necessary. US power projection is indeed built around these ships, but both kinds of ships require significant support from other ships. If boomer subs lack cover from attack subs, they are in peril. If you send an aircraft carrier into danger without adequate destroyer cover you will lose it. This is why every carrier strike group includes not just the power-projecting carrier and guided missile cruisers, but destroyers and anti-aircraft warships.
That doesn't even touch the number of pure support vessels that are afloat to keep the warships tended. Nor does it treat other means of power projection built around Navy vessels, such as the Marine Corps' 'Gator Freighters.'
Another reason this model of power projection requires a large Navy is that these ships sometimes need maintenance. Testimony on the effects of pending sequestration states that the current deployment model is unsustainable if those cuts go into effect.
It's one thing to say that you want a smaller, less capable American navy for some reason -- or that you are willing to accept a reduced American capacity to project power around the world. It's another thing to suggest that these ships are examples of why we don't need a large Navy. In fact, the model of power projection built around these ships is exactly why we need a large Navy. The ships are evidence for the opposite of the President's argument.
Oh, and just for the record, we actually have more bayonets now than in 1916, when the Army and National Guard were very small compared to European forces. It's a minor point, but given how dismissive the President chose to be about it, it's worth noting that he was wrong on the facts. Both American and British forces have fielded bayonet charges in Iraq and Afghanistan: see the link under "current deployment model" for examples.