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AP Fact Check: US Military Not as Threadbare as Trump Says

  • Associated Press

President Donald Trump speaks while aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport, Va., March 2, 2017.

President Donald Trump speaks while aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport, Va., March 2, 2017.

President Donald Trump painted an overly bleak picture of the condition of the armed forces Thursday as he made his case for military expansion. Here's a look at some of his statements from the Gerald R. Ford, a $12.9 billion aircraft carrier being built in Newport News, Virginia:

TRUMP: "We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world."

THE FACTS: Pentagon leaders have said for years that the U.S. already has the world's best weaponry and military equipment. They sometimes claim the U.S. could lose its advantage if Congress fails to continue to spend heavily to develop and build new generations of weapons.

The Navy's top officer, Admiral John Richardson, has said repeatedly that the Navy is the world's finest. He also has said the Navy must adapt to a world of changing security threats. Richardson's main focus has been on sharpening and changing the way sailors think about the nature of war, rather than relying on bigger budgets.

"We will not be able to 'buy' our way out of the challenges that we face," he wrote in a January 2016 plan for maintaining U.S. naval superiority.

TRUMP: "This great aircraft carrier provides essential capabilities to keep us safe from terrorism and take the fight to the enemy for many years in the future."

THE FACTS: Aircraft carriers are not the crucial element in the defense against terrorism. They do provide a flexible means of bringing warplanes and intelligence-gathering aircraft to areas where terrorists are being hunted, like off the coast of Libya or in the Persian Gulf, but their main function is to deter bigger wars with state powers like China, Russia and North Korea. The Pentagon's counterterrorism campaigns rely more on special operations forces, Air Force fighters and surveillance drones, military trainers and advisers, and the intelligence agencies.

TRUMP: "I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history."

THE FACTS: Three times in recent years, Congress raised military spending by larger amounts, in percentage terms, than the $54 billion, or 10 percent, increase that Trump proposes. The base defense budget grew by $41 billion, or 14.3 percent, in 2002; by $37 billion, or 11.3 percent, in 2003; and by $47 billion, or 10.9 percent, in 2008, according to Defense Department figures.

The proposed expansion pales in comparison with skyrocketing increases in earlier times. Military spending consumed 43 percent of the economy in 1944, during World War II, and 15 percent in 1952, during the Korean War. It was 3.3 percent in 2015, says the World Bank.

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