Heritage Foundation Releases 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength

Heritage Foundation Releases 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength

Annual Index downgrades Air Force to “weak,” rates Space Force as “weak,” Navy trending in the wrong direction, though improvements have been made by the Marine Corps and Army.

Oct 20, 2021 5 min read

WASHINGTON—The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense released the 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength on Wednesday in conjunction with a keynote address from U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. The report exposes the state of the U.S. military and its level of ability to defend American interests. The 2022 Index comes at a critical time as the U.S. military looks toward lean years of funding under the current administration and rising challenges to U.S. military readiness.

The Index finds that as currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to defend America’s vital national interests, and the majority of the services are trending in the wrong direction. These are worrisome findings, made worse by the limited ability of allies to meaningfully contribute to shared security interests. Meanwhile, America’s key adversaries—China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—‚are actively making clear advances in their military capabilities, with China reportedly launching a new hypersonic missile just this past week.

The Index gives each service a “capacity,” “capability,” “readiness,” and “overall” rating on the following scale: very weak, weak, marginal, strong, or very strong. Overall ratings are highlighted below:

Army: Marginal. The U.S. Army is aging faster than it is modernizing, receiving an overall “Marginal” rating. A force only about 62% the size it should be earns the service a “weak” rating for capacity. However, 58% (18) of its 31 regular brigade combat teams (BCTs) are at the highest state of readiness, thus earning the Army a score of “very strong” on readiness and conveying the sense that the service knows what it needs to do to prepare for the next major conflict.

Navy: Marginal, Trending to Weak. The Navy is rated “marginal” on a downward slope to “weak” in readiness. It desperately needs a larger fleet of 400 ships, but current and forecasted levels of funding will prevent this from occurring for the foreseeable future.

Marine Corps: Strong. The Marine Corps rating is an improvement from its 2021 Index rating of “marginal.” The score changed for two reasons: 1) The 2021 Index changed the threshold for capacity, lowering it from 36 infantry battalions to 30 battalions in acknowledgment of the Corps’ argument that it is a one-war force that also stands ready for a broad range of smaller crisis-response tasks, and 2) because of the Corps’ extraordinary efforts to modernize and enhance its readiness during the assessed year.

Air Force: Weak. This Air Force rating is a downgrade from an assessment of “marginal” in the 2021 Index. Though the Air Force possesses 86% of the combat aircraft that this Index recommends, public reporting of the mission readiness and physical location of these planes indicates that it would be difficult for the Air Force to respond rapidly to a crisis. Its ability to recruit and retain pilots adds to its challenges.

Space Force: Weak. The Space Force receives its first score in this year’s Index. While it has transitioned missions from the other services without interruption in support, it does not have enough assets to track and manage the explosive growth in commercial and competitor-country systems being placed into orbit. The majority of its platforms have exceeded their planned life span, and modernization efforts to replace them are slow and incremental. The force also lacks defensive and offensive counter-space capabilities.

Nuclear Capability: Strong, Trending to Marginal. Progress in modernization efforts, combined with assurances from senior leaders that the forces remain reliable, warrants a more optimistic assessment than previous editions. The conditional score reflects today’s greater risk of a degradation in nuclear deterrence. Current forces are assessed as reliable today, but nearly all components of the nuclear enterprise are at a tipping point with respect to replacement or modernization, and have no margin left for delays in schedule.

Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James, in the report’s preface, writes:

“Recent calls by some elected leaders to reduce defense spending might lead one to conclude that they must believe we live in a world that is completely safe, secure, and free from the need for a robust defense. But the unfortunate reality is that our biggest adversaries are working diligently to surpass our military capabilities at a time when much of our military equipment—including planes, tanks, and ships—is decades-old and years past its useful service life. We trust that our work assessing the challenges to America’s interests and our country’s ability to meet those challenges will significantly inform the debate that is so essential to protecting what has made the United States the beacon of hope, opportunity, and liberty for all the world.”

Retired Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense, and retired Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, Heritage senior research fellow and editor of the Index, released the following statement in light of the 2022 Index’s findings:

"Most Americans can agree that the U.S. government’s top priority should be to provide for the common defense through fully funding a military capable of successfully deterring, and if necessary, confronting and defeating America’s enemies. While our adversaries have been investing in their defense capabilities at breakneck pace, the U.S. military is getting older faster than it is getting modern. The decline of America’s military hard power threatens its ability to defend the homeland from attack and to protect its interests abroad.

“As adversaries grow increasingly more provocative, the current Biden defense budget being debated in Congress is dangerously inadequate to the task of making significant improvements necessary to improve military readiness. Also cause for alarm, our allies—many in worse shape than the U.S.—lack the capability to mitigate current U.S. shortfalls. If the U.S. continues down this trajectory, it risks falling dangerously short in its ability to secure its core national interests and protect the American people.”

Since the inaugural 2015 edition of the Index of U.S. Military Strength, The Heritage Foundation has documented a steady decline in various aspects of U.S. military strength, and the 2022 Index, while showing welcome improvements in some areas, makes clear that those improvements are limited across the services. Even with advances in certain areas, the force is still insufficient to defend America’s interests and partners in a conflict involving multiple fronts around the globe, and indeed, other aspects of the force are degrading rapidly.

The entire 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength is available here.

The Index of U.S. Military Strength is a comprehensive, authoritative 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 2022 Index is the eighth annual assessment, serves 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.

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