A big defense spending push under President Trump has still left the U.S. military barely able to meet its central military missions, even as rivals such as China and Russia bulk up, according to the latest military review issued Tuesday by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The think tank’s Center for National Defense released their annual “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” which came with troubling conclusions about the state of the U.S. armed forces and their ability to defend vital American interests.
“As currently postured, the U.S. military is only marginally able to meet the demands,” the report stated.
Retiring Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said at the briefing for the report’s release that it was crucial not to hide from a “candid, objective analysis.”
“We’re not where we should be,” said Mr. Thornberry. “The federal government is not fulfilling its first responsibility to the American people and to future generations to ‘provide for the common defense.’”
This year’s index is the seventh annual analysis of U.S. military strength issued by the think tank, and this year’s edition reflects the early fruits of a major spending bump overseen by Mr. Trump for the Pentagon in his four years in office.
“The military is an essential tool. It is seen as capable and ready to respond to challenges to U.S. interests,” said Dakota Wood, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and research analyst at the Heritage Foundation who edited this year’s report on military strength. “It’s actually a backstop — it enhances the power of diplomacy.”
The researchers concluded that capabilities of the Army were a mixed bag, earning a “marginal” rating because it is at about 70% the size it should be to carry out its missions. The analysis said it takes about 50 brigade combat teams to successfully defend against an attack, but the Army has only about 35 its can deploy.
The Army did receive a “very strong” rating for its efforts to rebuild readiness in recent months.
The Navy was rated as “marginal” in last year’s index and kept that ranking. This year’s index, however, found “troubling trends” with researchers saying the Navy was heading toward a “weak” rating.
“The service needs at least 400 ships to meet demand,” the report states. “The current fleet of 300 aging ships and overstretched shipyards is simply inadequate to defend the nation’s interests.”
The U.S. Marine Corps’s capability was also ranked “Marginal” in this year’s index — an improvement from last year’s rating of “weak.” The Air Force was ranked “marginal” in this year’s index, the same score it held last year. A lack of pilots and sufficient time in the cockpit factored in the low score, Mr. Wood said.
“In the Cold War, Air Force pilots and Navy pilots would fly upwards of 200-plus hours per year,” he said. “If they were at 150 [hours] or so, they were considered not really deployable. That’s the number where we’re at today.”
Researchers said the U.S. has been forced to choose between solving a readiness crisis and investing in modernizing the force to face emerging threats.
“We can no longer settle for one or the other. We must do both,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, director of Heritage’s Center for National Defense, and Mr. Wood in a joint statement.
Researchers said the Heritage Foundation has documented a steady decline in U.S. military strength since the release of the first report. In a statement released in the book’s preface, Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James said the military “report card” was designed to help decision-makers become better informed about the challenges and shortcomings they face.
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