Military index shows U.S. weakness

Every year Congress debates how much to spend on defense. And yet there is no reliable benchmark to measure how much spending is enough.

We get piecemeal information in testimony from the military chiefs and reports on specific weapons. And every four years the Pentagon puts out strategic and defense reviews. [And even those reports have largely been ignored in recent years.] We’re left without a consistent, accessible reference that enables us to understand the status of U.S. military power, especially on a year-to year basis.

To fill this gap, the Heritage Foundation has released its first Index of U.S. Military Strength — a benchmark reference that assesses the ability of the U.S. military to defend America and its interests.

As defense analyst Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute observes, “the Index places a spotlight on an inconvenient truth, one obscured by U.S. government reports, commissions and pronouncements. This truth is that U.S. military power is no longer adequate to meet the essential set of national security requirements.”

The Index documents in detail the growing mismatch between the rising threats this country faces and our armed forces’ diminishing capability to meet them.

On the one hand, threats are going up. Countries like Russia, China and Iran are investing in advanced military platforms, sensors and missiles, exploring new designs for nuclear weapons and leveraging their home advantage. Terrorists are destabilizing countries and turning them into sanctuaries from which they may attack the U.S. and its allies.

Meanwhile, our armed forces are shrinking and our equipment aging. We are not modernizing fast enough to keep up with the rising threats. Combat readiness is declining and we are not investing enough defense dollars to keep the force from shrinking further. Ironically, the defense budget squeeze is actually driving up unit costs for manpower and weapon systems, adding further downward pressure on the size of the force.

The Index identifies where the shortfalls exist and are worsening. For example, in comparing the Navy’s stated fleet requirement in 2013 with their battle force inventory for 2014, the study’s authors find that the Navy is short 24 ships. Comparing requirements and capacity for all naval platforms, the Index finds it does best in submarines, moderately well in aircraft carriers and naval aviation, but poorly in mine countermeasure ships and its combat-logistics force.

As for the Army, it’s doing best in the M-1 Abrams tanks and moderately well in the Stryker armored fighting vehicle. But the capabilities of the M2 Bradley armored fighting vehicle and the M113 armored personnel carriers are quite low.

One of the central messages of the Index is that our military strategy is out of whack. We claim officially that we no longer need enough forces to fight two large scale regional conflicts simultaneously. Yet given all of our obligations and requirements, that’s not an unlikely scenario.

If the Middle East heats up, are we really willing to write off Asia or Europe — especially now that Russia is behaving so aggressively? The strength already sapped from our armed forces will take years to restore.

Meanwhile, our allies, although largely stable, are also less capable than they used to be. They are less likely to pick up the slack created by our growing weakness and our lack of leadership.

The conditions are ripe for our enemies to take

advantage of our weakness. Unless we turn around the decline of our military capability, we could find not only the risk of war far greater, but the near certainty that if war comes, our armed forces will be less prepared than they should be to defeat our enemies.

 - Kim R. Holmes is a distinguished fellow.

About the Author

Kim R. Holmes, Ph.D. Distinguished Fellow
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

Originally appeared in The Washington Times