The Heritage Foundation released its 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength on Oct. 28, and the outlook is bleak.
The U.S. Army in particular does not come off well in the report. The authors rate the service’s overall capabilities as “weak” while the other branches are rated as “marginal.” Recovery will take time and money—but getting the necessary funding is not a foregone conclusion.
“It will take years to rebuild,” said Heritage scholar Dakota Wood, who edited the report. “It’s easier to get worse than it is to get better.”
The report rated the U.S. Army as weak in two of three categories including readiness and capacity. The authors rated the service as marginal in terms of capability. Wood said that the reason for the Army’s poor showing was due to end strength cuts and the service’s inability to reset after more than a decade of war.
The U.S. Air Force fared somewhat better. The authors rated the service as “very strong” in terms of capacity, but marginal in terms of readiness and capability. “Air Force dropped from strong to marginal due to losses in readiness and capability,” state Wood’s briefing slides.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps don’t fare as well as the Air Force in the report. Both services are rated as marginal in the report. The Navy is rated as weak in terms of capability while the Marines are rated as weak in terms of capacity. “Navy and Marine Corps have modernization challenges, amplified by deferred maintenance and procurement to preserve current operational availability,” Wood’s slides state.
Indeed, the Heritage assessment states that the U.S. military is sliding to a one-war fighting capacity, which erodes the country’s deterrence and credibility in the foreign policy arena. It’s questionable whether the Pentagon could sustain operations during a high-end conflict.
Wood said that the situation would likely get worse before it gets better. The military needs to be sized to fight two wars. That means a force consisting of fifty Army brigade combat teams, 346 Navy ships, thirty Marine battalions, 1200 Air Force tactical fighters and 624 Navy strike aircraft.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.