Yes, the US military is weak
According to Politico, an unnamed defense official says Pentagon leaders are “not too pleased” that the Heritage Foundation’s latest US military strength index has characterized American hard power as “weak”. The anonymous source also said that Heritage’s rating is “dumb and dangerous”, in part because it is “based on the outdated requirement that the military be capable of fighting two wars simultaneously”, a metric modified by the Obama administration and maintained by both the Trump and Biden teams.
Someone in the Pentagon can perhaps be forgiven for taking offense when a stranger says their baby is ugly, but, if that’s true, the prideful umbrage doesn’t outweigh the fact. When it comes to evaluating our armed forces, it is size, readiness and capabilities that count. The Pentagon should care much more about its ability to protect American interests than about its self-esteem.
The index draws its information from the Pentagon’s own reports, congressional testimony, statements from senior officials, acquisition data, and other publicly available information relevant to understanding the state of the U.S. military. The military evaluation section of the Index 2023 includes nearly 700 footnotes supporting our findings. Here is a sample of the many facts on the subject:
The United States has found itself at war every 15 to 20 years since its founding. That’s unlikely to change any time soon.
During the Cold War, the US military faced one massive adversary (the Soviet Union) on a global scale, while managing to manage crises in various parts of the world. Today, the United States faces four adversaries – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – but is just over half the strength it was there. barely three decades old.
In each major conflict since World War II, the Army has committed 21 ground force brigade equivalents, the Marine Corps about 15 battalions, and the Air Force about 600 combat/attack aircraft. Many studies have agreed with these historical realities and have recommended twice as much force to protect American interests. Today, the army has 31 brigades, the marine corps 22 battalions, and the air force about 626 combat-coded fighters available.
During the Cold War, the navy maintained a fleet approaching 600 ships and kept 100 at sea. Today’s navy has fewer than 300 ships, but maintains the same number deployed. The size of the fleet will soon shrink to 280 ships.
During the Cold War, fighter pilots averaged more than 300 flying hours per year. Today, Air Force pilots average less than 120 hours, or about one flight per week.
The army operates with brigades, but concentrates its training at the company level, perhaps assuming that everything will fall into place in combat.
For nearly 20 years after 9/11, the US military conducted operations that consumed platforms, ammunition and equipment purchased to fight the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, these assets were not replaced at similar rates. As a result, the Army is stuck with aging platforms and reduced inventory. US support for Ukraine has exacerbated the problem, as the Pentagon digs deep into existing inventories of weapons and ammunition to help Ukraine defend against Russia. Stockpiles are approaching war reserve levels and will take years to rebuild.
Although new equipment is slowly being brought into use, the strength continues to decline. An army barely able to handle a war is ill-equipped to do more. If the United States were called upon to defend NATO partners in Europe, it would not be able to support Israel, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea or anyone else anywhere.
Far from deterring competitors, this situation will embolden them, increasing the risk at the worst possible time.
In its current state, how can our military be assessed as anything other than weak?
Honestly assessing US military power is not “dangerous.” What is dangerous is being weak and not letting the American people know. Even more dangerous: a Pentagon in denial of the threats it faces and its own vulnerabilities.