The Heritage Foundation Releases 2019 "Index of U.S. Military Strength"

The Heritage Foundation Releases 2019 "Index of U.S. Military Strength"

Oct 4, 2018 4 min read

Washington, D.C. – The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense released the 2019 “Index of U.S. Military Strength” Thursday during a special briefing with Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA). The report’s central conclusion is troubling: “As currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.”


Since the inaugural 2015 “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” The Heritage Foundation has documented a steady decline in U.S. military strength, and the 2019 “Index,” while showing welcome improvements in some areas, makes clear that the improvements are limited and tenuous across the services, and any possible downturns in defense budgets in coming years represent a substantial threat to an already over-burdened force.


A quick look at some of the findings of the 2019 “Index” highlight the crisis:


  • The Air Force and Marine Corps both received “Weak” readiness ratings, with the Air Force mired in a crippling fighter pilot (more than 1,000) and fighter aircraft (nearly 300) shortage. The average fighter pilot is currently flying fewer than two times a week, severely degrading combat readiness of the force.
  • Of the U.S. Army’s 31 Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), the building blocks of American ground combat power, only 15 are considered “ready,” and only 8 of those are “fully ready.” Army leaders have said it could be 2022 before the service gets to their goal of two-thirds of their active BCTs ready.
  • The Marine Corps maintained its 2018 “Weak” comprehensive rating, with approximately half of its amphibious ship and tactical aircraft fleets unavailable for current operations.


Tom Spoehr, Center for National Defense director and retired Army lieutenant general, released the following statement in light of these findings:

"There can be no doubt – the U.S. military is still too small, insufficiently ready, and under-modernized. Despite recent, much-needed increases in the defense budget, rebuilding will take years. The consistent theme across the services has been one of degraded readiness, outdated equipment and overburdened service members. If we are to retain our role as the world’s superpower, and counter the ever-mounting challenges posed by our adversaries, we must commit ourselves to the generational task of restoring our nation’s military. We cannot settle for less. This document gives policymakers the authoritative data to start.”

The entire 2019 “Index of U.S. Military Strength” is available here.


The “Index of U.S. Military Strength” is a comprehensive assessment of America’s military power, the operating environments around the world relevant to America’s vital national interests, and the threats posed to the United States by our adversaries. The 2019 “Index” is the fifth annual assessment, and has served as an invaluable guide in educating both policymakers and the American public about the state of U.S. military readiness, and how prepared the United States is to face the changing threats in an increasingly dangerous world.