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February 24, 2015

February 24, 2015 | News Releases on

Heritage Foundation Releases First Annual “Index of U.S. Military Strength”

Washington, DC, Feb. 24, 2015 – The U.S. military may be weaker than you think. All but one branch of America’s military and nuclear forces are currently operating at “marginal” strength levels. The exception is the Air Force, which is rated as “strong” in the “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” released today by The Heritage Foundation.

A first-of-its-kind report, the Index provides an in-depth analysis of global threats to vital U.S. interests and our armed forces’ ability to prevail against them. It concludes that, overall, U.S. armed forces are not capable of prevailing when fighting two regional conflicts at once, a longstanding strategic objective. It notes that, while terrorism still presents a serious threat, Russia and China pose the greatest danger to U.S. national security.

“The Heritage Foundation’s 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in our nation’s military capabilities.  It paints a stark picture of shortfalls in capability, capacity, and readiness across the force and illustrates the damage done by years of irresponsible budget cuts.  I encourage all policymakers interested in the current state of our military—and how to improve it—to review this Index.” says Rep. Randy Forbes, member of the House Armed Services Committee

The Index analyzes three components of U.S. military strength: the capabilities of each branch of U.S. military service, the nature and severity of major regional threats they may be called upon to deal with, and the environments (presence/absence of allies, geographic challenges, etc.) in which they would have to operate. 

Major factors driving for the poor ratings are consistent understaffing and equipment shortages, said Index Editor Dakota Wood. In 2014, the Army and Marines were only able to field 76 percent and 69 percent of necessary forces, respectively. Likewise, the Navy consistently had fewer ships than are needed. The Air Force, meanwhile, operated at 92 percent of capacity requirements.

In 2014, Russia, Middle East terrorism, Iran, Afghanistan-Pakistan based terrorism, China, and North Korea all displayed similar levels of aggression against the U.S. The military capabilities of Russia and China are what elevate them above these other threats in the Index ratings. Terrorism based in Afghanistan and Pakistan is also considered a serious threat due to its potential to destabilize Pakistan to the point that the nation’s nuclear weapons could end up in the hands of terrorist organizations.

Operating environments in three major theaters—Europe, the Middle East and Asia—are rated according to U.S. vital interests. According to the Index:

  • Europe provides the most favorable operating environment of all major theaters due to favorable alliances, political stability and infrastructure but lagging U.S. military posture in the region presents concerns.
  • Political instability, epitomized by Syria and Iraq, plagues the Middle East making it a less favorable operating environment and presenting serious concerns.
  • Existing bi-lateral military alliances in Asia are a large plus in an otherwise moderately ranked operating environment.

Copies of the 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength (313 pages, $24.95) may be ordered online at http://shop.heritage.org. The full text, including charts and graphs is also available free, online, at http://index.heritage.org/militarystrength.

One of the nation’s leading think tanks, The Heritage Foundation is committed to developing public policy solutions that advance free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional values and a strong national defense.

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