Heritage ‘Report Card’ Paints Grim Picture of Military Readiness, Capacity
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Squeezed by consistently inadequate resources and persistently high operational demands, the strength of the U.S. military continues to erode, with an overall rating of “marginal,” according to the latest “Index of U.S. Military Strength” released Oct. 5 by the Heritage Foundation. Insufficient size and declining readiness produced a “marginal” rating for the Air Force and the Navy and an alarming “weak” evaluation for the Army and Marine Corps.
The 429-page index evaluates the global security environment, focusing on Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, and the threats to U.S. interests and allies, against the military’s capacity, or size, its capability and readiness to meet those threats. This is the fourth edition of the index.
The index is “a report card about the past year” and “about hard power,” things that can be measured such as tanks, aircraft and ships, said Dakota Wood, Heritage’s senior fellow for defense programs and editor of the index.
“As for the condition of America’s military services, they continue to be beset by aging equipment, shrinking numbers, rising costs and problematic funding; four factors that have accelerated over the past year at a time when threats to U.S. interests continue to rise,” the index concludes.
The Navy’s “marginal” rating was tenuous because its readiness evaluation dropped from “strong” to “marginal,” while its capacity remained at “marginal” and its capability stayed at “weak.” Because the continued increase in operational pace has not been matched by similar improvements in capacity and readiness, “the Navy’s overall score could degrade in the near future if the service does not recapitalize and maintain the health of its fleet more robustly than is now the case,” the index warned.
The Marines overall rating dropped from “marginal” last year to “weak” due to a decline in its readiness to “weak,” and a similar rating for capacity, while its capability was rated as “marginal.”
The Army’s “weak” overall rating results from the same evaluation of its capacity and readiness and a “marginal” capability, while the Air Force was rated “marginal” across all three of the categories.
Opening the discussion, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, lamented the low state of readiness of the services, citing the two recent fatal collisions of Navy destroyers and other deadly military accidents as a result.
“We have lost roughly the same number of people in training accidents this year as were shot in Las Vegas, and certainly more than we lost in combat,” Thornberry said.
That is a reflection of “a military that is too small, too old and used at a high operational rate,” he said.
Despite having heard the warnings of the declining military capability, Thornberry complained that Congress reacted just as it has for the last nine years, by approving a continuing resolution instead of appropriations bills for the next fiscal year.
“Every single day we operate on a continuing resolution, we damage the military by denying them what they need,” he said.
Thornberry boasted about the nearly $700 billion for defense the House has approved, even though it has not shown any willingness to repeal or change the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) limits, which would hold the military to $549 billion.
Asked about that, he expressed confidence that based on the strong bipartisan votes in both chambers for the high defense numbers, “I think there will be a deal” to change the BCA caps.
Heritage’s index measures the military’s size against the old “two major conflicts” standard, which the Pentagon has not embraced for more than a decade.
To meet that standard, the Navy would need a combat fleet of 355 ships, compared with the current 279, which would include 13 aircraft carriers and 13 carrier air wings, compared with the current 11 and 10. The Marine Corps would need 36 infantry battalions, compared with the current 24.