Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Thursday that he's been frustrated by comments made on the campaign trail that the Navy is weak or too small to meet its mission.
"They're just fact-free," Mabus told reporters following remarks at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium. "We're building the fleet. And the fleet size we're operating under today is a result of decisions made 10 years ago."
During his keynote address, Mabus said those who try to "get headlines" by saying that the fleet is shrinking or by making "irrational comparisons" to past fleets are harming the country.
"Statements like that may advance personal agendas, but they demonstrate a fundamental misconception about our Navy and what we are up to," Mabus said. "They embolden our adversaries, they undercut the confidence of our allies and they do a disservice to sailors, Marines, the shipbuilders, the rest of industry and most importantly to this country."
Many of the Republican candidates to serve as the next commander in chief have called for a larger, newer Navy. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has repeatedly said that the Navy is too small to meet its mission and his defense plan calls for a minimum of 323 ships by 2024 to adequately defend the nation. The Navy as of Thursday had 272 "deployable battle force ships."
"Because they certainly can't do it with the oldest and smallest Air Force in the history of this country, or with the smallest Army we've had since World War II, or with the smallest and oldest Navy we've had since 1915. Yet these are what we will have thanks to the cuts these candidates have supported and even tried to deepen," Rubio said this month.
And Rubio is not the only one.
"The Navy has been gutted and decimated. The readiness of the Marines is way down," Jeb Bush said during the last Republican presidential debate last month.
"We have a Navy that's at its smallest size since 1911, an Air Force [at its] smallest since 1940. We have low morale, we have people quitting," Ben Carson said this week on CNN.
Those who believe the Navy has enough to meet its mission often say that ships today are more capable than those of past conflicts, a sentiment Mabus echoed.
"Yeah, we had fewer ships than we did, but we also have fewer telegraphs," he said.
Critics who call for a larger Navy often retort that even today's ships can only be in one place at once and point to a carrier gap last year in the Middle East as evidence that more ships are needed.
Mabus said that under his watch, the fleet has grown faster than "at any time in modern history" and that, by the time he leaves at the end of Obama's term, he will have contracted more ships than the last three Navy secretaries combined.
By the end of this year, Mabus will have put 84 ships under contract, a statistic he called an "astounding success" and a sign that the Navy is growing to the 308-ship size unanimously agreed to by the admirals, the joint force, the Congressional Research Service and the administration.