'CHANGE' - United States’ military posture is rated as “marginal” and is trending toward “weak.” HT: Heritage.
James Jay Carafano, America’s leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, has criticized the current state of the US military, calling it “not a bad grade for kindergarten,” but certainly “not much to show for a commander-in-chief after seven years of stewardship over America’s military.”
His comments on The Heritage Foundation website follow the assessments of the US military index, released by the Foundation in its “2016 Index of US Military Strength” report.
The report concluded that the US’ military posture is rated as “marginal” for its Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Nuclear power, trending toward “weak”, and is just plain “weak” for the Army.
The Status of U.S. Military Power
Finally, we assessed the military power of the United States in three areas: capability, capacity, and readiness. These three areas of assessment are central to the overarching questions of whether the U.S. has a sufficient quantity of appropriately modern military power and whether military units are able to conduct military operations on demand and effectively.
The common theme across the services and the United States’ nuclear enterprise is one of force degradation resulting from many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of budget sequestration (cuts in funding) on readiness and capacity. While the military has been heavily engaged in operations, primarily in the Middle East but elsewhere as well, since September 11, 2001, experience is both ephemeral and context-sensitive. Valuable combat experience is lost over time as the servicemembers who individually gained experience leave the force, and it maintains direct relevance only for future operations of a similar type. Thus, though the current Joint Force is experienced in some types of operations, it is still aged and shrinking in its capacity for operations.
The characterizations shown are not a reflection of the competence of individual service members or the professionalism of the services or Joint Force as a whole; nor do they speak to the U.S. military’s strength relative to other militaries around the world. Rather, they are assessments of the institutional, programmatic, and matériel health or viability of America’s hard military power.
Our analysis concluded with these assessments:
- Army as “Weak.” The Army’s score dropped from “marginal” last year to “weak” this year, a development that can be attributed primarily to a drop in capacity, as the Army has fewer BCTs ready for deployment abroad. The Army’s capability and readiness scores remained static over the past year as the service continued to struggle with recouping readiness levels after years of budget cuts.
- Navy as “Marginal.” The Navy again scored strong in readiness, but at a cost to future capability. Deferred maintenance has kept ships at sea, but this is beginning to affect the Navy’s ability to deploy. With scores of “weak” in capability (due largely to old platforms and troubled modernization programs) and “marginal” in capacity, the Navy is currently just able to meet operational requirements. Moving forward, the fleet will be further strained to meet operational demands, especially as Reagan-era platforms increasingly near the end of their service lives.
- Air Force as “Marginal.” In 2015, the Air Force flew sorties in support of many named operations, resulting in a higher than anticipated operational tempo. The USAF scored “very strong” in capacity. Capability scored as “marginal,” remaining static since last year’s assessment, while “readiness” dropped from “strong” to “marginal.” Although difficult to categorize, the readiness decline is best attributed to reports that under half of the service’s combat air forces meet full-spectrum readiness requirements. The aggregate score of “marginal” is a decline from the 2015 Index score of “strong”, driven primarily by degradation in capability and readiness.
- Marine Corps as “Marginal.” As with last year, the Corps’ strongest suit was in readiness, but even here there are problems as stated by the Corps itself. While the fighting competence of the service is superb, it is hampered by aging equipment; troubled replacement programs for its key ground vehicles (particularly its amphibious personnel carriers); and a shrinking force. The progress the Corps has made in replacing its rotary-wing aircraft has been a notable bright spot in its otherwise uninspiring modernization portfolio.
- Nuclear Capabilities as “Marginal.” Modernization, testing, and investment in the intellectual/talent underpinnings of this sector are the chief problems facing America’s nuclear enterprise. Delivery platforms are good, but the force depends on a very limited set of weapons (in number of designs) and models that are quite old, in stark contrast to the aggressive programs of competitor states. Following developments abroad in regions of national interest and increased uncertainty globally, there is now a greater need to modernize U.S. nuclear capabilities, particularly with regard to aging delivery systems. Continued reliance on legacy systems such as the B-52 will eventually diminish the effectiveness of the nuclear triad and lead to the degradation of our nation’s strategic deterrence. Overall
In aggregate, the United States’ military posture is rated as “marginal” and is trending toward “weak.”
Overall, the Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies.
The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force have placed it under significant pressure. Essential maintenance continues to be deferred; fewer units (mostly the Navy’s platforms and the Special Operations Forces community) are being cycled through operational deployments more often and for longer periods; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are problematic.
The shift (since last year’s Index) in two services—the Army and Air Force—to a lower category in the course of a single year is surprising and should be seen as evidence of the rapidly accumulating effects of inadequate funding during a time of higher operational demand and policies that have traded long-term health for near-term readiness.
The cumulative effect of these factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests. Read and download the full report here.