MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Thursday America must not economize on security but rather strengthen national defense by rebuilding the Navy and Air Force and adding 100,000 active duty personnel.
"You would think that the president and the people in Washington would recognize the importance of the United States military and the need not to shrink our military budget but strengthen it," the former Massachusetts governor said. He was speaking to about 60 veterans gathered on the hanger deck of the World War II-era aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.
Romney said that the defense budget is now about 3.8 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and he would like to see that figure rise to 4 percent. "I don't believe we can economize on securing our nation," he said in the conservative, early primary state of South Carolina.
Romney's remarks were a preview of a foreign policy address he will deliver Friday across town at another iconic military setting, The Citadel, the state's military college. On Thursday, Romney released the names of 22 advisers with whom he will consult on foreign policy issues.
The former governor acknowledged that there is waste in defense spending, adding "my life in the private sector taught me to go after waste and economize, and there is an opportunity to do that."
But he said he wouldn't, as European nations have done, reduce defense and put the savings into social programs.
Romney said the Navy needs more than 300 ships. "We're down to 285 now and we're heading to the low 200s. We can't fulfill our naval missions at those levels," he said.
He said the Air Force is "smaller and older in terms of average age of our equipment than in 1947" and said he would add 100,000 active duty troops to ease the frequent troop rotations in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
"These high rotations we are seeing, we should not have to demand of our National Guard and active duty personnel," he said.
He said he would also insure "we treat our veterans the way our veterans deserve to be treated. Not just those of the past, but those of the present who are coming back and suffering from serious wounds."