The US military has grown increasingly week over the years and is considered at risk of not being able to win a war against burgeoning threats overseas, a new report has found.
The worrisome trend was aired Tuesday by The Heritage Foundation, a think tank that analyzes the strength of the armed forces and potential threats to the US.
In its Foundation’s Index of US Military Strength, Heritage rated America’s military as ‘weak’ and ‘at growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests’ from growing powers such as China and Russia.
The weak rating, down from ‘marginal’ recorded by the Washington-based agency last year, is the first in the index’s nine-year history.
It further found that rapidly advancing China remained the most ‘comprehensive security challenge’ to an ill-prepared US force, with the foundation citing Beijing’s recent bolstering of their land, sea, and air outfits.
Conversely, US forces, the study found, remained largely stagnant – and have actually regressed to a point where pilots have been left without crafts to fly and enlisters have had difficulty recruiting citizens to field a legitimate fighting force.
Aside from the overall ‘weak’ rating garnered by the military, Heritage provided each of the military branches with their own individual rankings based on capability, capacity, and readiness, especially in the event of a two-pronged conflict.
The Army scored ‘marginal,’ while the Air Force was ranked ‘very weak’ and the Navy ‘weak.’ The Marine Corps, meanwhile, fared the best, receiving a ‘strong’ rating – an improvement from the ‘marginal’ it received in 2021.
The reports release comes as the military ‘faces a full-blown recruitment crisis,’ according to Heritage – spurred by two straight years where the Biden administration submitted defense budget requests that were below the rate of inflation.
‘For the first time, The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength finds that as currently postured, the U.S. military is rated ‘weak’ and at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while attending to various presence and engagement activities,’ the report began.
It added that ‘the military has seen a general erosion of capacity, capability, and readiness’ that ‘have become so significant’ that the military’s ability to fulfill its primary objective is in jeopardy.
The org asserted that those concerns were particularly prevalent when it comes to the Air Force and Navy, citing ‘readiness and capacity issues across the force(s).’
Compounding those concerns, according to the report, are inflation and budget cuts, which account for a loss of $59 billion in funding between 2018 and 2023.
That, Heritage wrote, has been further worsened by ‘the limited assistance’ that American allies such as the UK and South Korea can contribute in the event of a global conflict, given conflicting security interests.
In contrast, America’s key adversaries – China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea – have all rapidly advanced their military capabilities in recent years, and have ramped up efforts to intimidate our overseas affiliates, the think tank added.
To that point, Heritage cited Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and both China and North Korea’s increasing intimidation of neighboring Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea – all disputes the agency said could eventually boil over into a conflict on the world stage.
Such a conflict, the foundation claimed, the US would not be ready for, especially in the event two major skirmishes surfaced at once – for instance, one in the Middle East and another on the Korean peninsula.
Americans might wish ‘that the world be a simpler, less threatening place,’ the report notes, but ‘the patterns of history show that competing powers consistently emerge and that the US must be able to defend its interests in more than one region at a time.’
Heritage went as far to claim that the US military, in its current state, may not even be able to handle ‘a single major regional conflict’ due to its forces being spread increasingly thin amongst the various branches stations overseas
‘The 2023 Index concludes that the current US military force is at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities,’ the report read.
‘It most likely would not be able to do more and is certainly ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts.’
The US has also lagged behind its increasingly powerful rivals in technologically, including its dwindling stock of long-range missiles.
America currently possesses just 300 land based missiles, while China boasts more than 14,000, and Russian more than 12,000.
With that said, Heritage wrote that the global operating environment, aggregated across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and even Latin America and Africa, is still ‘favorable’ to the US and its ability to project military power.
In the interim, the American military’s four main facets have found themselves hopelessly hampered by Pentagon budgets that have failed to keep up with rampant inflation, forcing the branches to make difficult decisions about whether to be technologically advanced, well-manned, or ready to fight at a moment’s notice.
Achieving all three, especially within the Navy and Air Force, would be virtually impossible.
Taking into account capacity, capability, and readiness of each on a scale of very weak, weak, marginal, strong, and very strong, the decline among those two branches was especially stark.
The Navy in particular, Heritage wrote, has shown a ‘persistent inability to arrest and reverse the continued diminution of its fleet,’ while rival fleets in both Russia and China have more than tripled their respective manpower over the past two decades.
The report backed calls for the Navy to increase its fighting force – arguing that the service’s fleet of 298 ships cannot keep up with an ‘intensified operational tempo.’
In an explanation of the military body’s poor performance in the index, Heritage cited the ‘the Navy’s persistent inability to arrest and reverse the continued diminution of its fleet while adversary forces grow in number and capability.’
In 2000, the United States boasted nearly 350 ships in their fleet, while both Russian and China had just over 400 between the two of them. Now, the US’ fleet has dwindled to under 300 manned boats, while both Moscow and Beijing each possess over 700 apiece.
From 2005 to 2020, for instance, the US fleet grew to 296 warships from 291, while China’s navy grew to 360 from 216 – a nearly 75 percent increase.
With that said, the Navy has for years sought to bolster its once-storied fleet to at least 350 ships, but due to budget concerns and forces being spread so thin, it has largely failed in even approaching that goal.
In fact, Heritage revealed, that one day in June, roughly one-third of the entire 298-strong fleet was deployed on routine missions – a number double the average of the Cold War.
That sort of overwork, Heritage asserted, has spawned maintenance delays and extensive backlogs, leaving the force’s maintenance yards overwhelmed as the shipbuilding industry continues to shrink amid deteriorating demand.
An analysis offered in the report, consequently, revealed the Navy has under-performed on shipbuilding plans by at least 10 ships a year on average over the past five years, as the gap between the US and powers burgeoning overseas continues to widen – warranting the ‘weak’ rating.
Age was also an issue for the Navy, with 34 of the branch’s 298 ships set to retire within the next three years.
The Air Force, meanwhile, performed even worse, based on a criteria that analyzed the branches’ capacity, capability, and readiness for war.
With those factors in mind, Heritage offered the American Air Force a ‘very weak’ rating – with authors citing aging ‘aircraft and very poor pilot training and retention,’ in the current state of a fighting force Heritage said ‘would struggle greatly against a peer competitor.’
The agency’s current state, the think tank explained, can be largely attributed to a ‘shortage of pilots and flying time for those’ servicemen, which in turn ‘degrades the ability of the Air Force to generate the quality of combat air power that would be needed to meet wartime requirements.’
The age of the branch’s aircraft is also a major factor contributing to the branch’s slow but pronounced decline, which has been recently worsened by the pilot shortage.
According to Heritage, the ‘current generation of fighter pilots’ – referring to those who have been actively flying for the past seven years – ‘has never experienced a healthy rate of operational flying.’
The report revealed that pilots flew just 10 hours a month on average in 2021, up from 8.7 in 2020 during the pandemic, but still well below the 200 hours a year mark pilots are required to meet in order to to be considered capable of engaging in a dog fight against a formidable opponent.
The Army did not fare much better on the agency’s grading scale, with Heritage citing how the branch has collectively lost $59 billion in buying power since 2018 due to flat budgets and recent, rampant inflation.
And like its aerial counterpart, the branch is falling well short when it comes recruiting soldiers – nearly 20,000 less than its 485,000 active-duty goal in fiscal 2022.
Those recruiting challenges – coupled with unspecified ‘funding uncertainties’ – yielded the branch a strength classification of ‘marginal.’
As for the Marines, the only body to warrant a ‘strong’ rating, the branch seemed to score better due to its propensity change, as it made preparations for a prospective war in the Pacific in a concept known as Force Design 2030, as the branch picks up the slack left by the Navy for measures taken in the event of a potential conflict with China or North Korea.
New and emerging threats have also changed how the Marine Corps is organized, trained, equipped, and employed, helping it achieve the stellar score – despite recently slimming down to a bare-bones 21 infantry battalions, from 27 as recently as 2011.
With that said, mission success for the operation depends on the construction of a still-in-production amphibious ship that the Navy may never be able to deliver.
The scores were all achieved as American branches collect an $800 billion budget from the federal government, with the country currently spending roughly 3 percent of its GDP on its military.
That’s down from the 5 to 6 percent set aside for American military spending in the 80s – suggesting that good self-defense does not come cheap.
This comes as the U.S. House of Representatives July paved the way for the nation’s defense budget to exceed $800 billion next year – albeit barely – authorizing $37 billion in spending on top of the record $773 billion proposed by President Biden.
The Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill, but the Senate Armed Services Committee has already backed an even larger increase – one that would add $45 billion in spending – over Biden’s proposal.