According to USNI News, “The Navy’s ability to defend the nation’s vital security interests is “marginal,” – with the caveat that its score is trending to “weak” in capability and readiness – while the Marine Corps’ ability is graded as “strong,” according to a think tank’s latest survey of United States military power.”
From where does that dire capability and readiness rating come? The Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength.
According to Heritage, the Pentagon as a whole is in dire straights and is only “marginally” able to defend the United States’ key interests. The three main “interests” the report examines are:
- Defense of the homeland;
- Successful conclusion of a major war that has the potential to destabilize a region of critical interest to the U.S.; and
- Preservation of freedom of movement within the global commons (the sea, air, outer-space, and cyberspace domains) through which the world conducts its business.
Overall, the report’s authors observe that “As reported in all previous editions of the Index, the common theme across the services and the U.S. nuclear enterprise is one of force degradation and the effort needed to rebuild after such degradation, which has been caused by many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of budget sequestration (cuts in funding) on readiness and capacity in spite of repeated efforts by Congress to provide relief from low budget ceilings imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011.”
In the report, only the Marines and the US nuclear force received a “strong” rating, the highest rating. The Army received a “marginal” score. The Air Force and Space Force both received “weak” ratings. The Navy did poorly too, its current score is “moderate trending toward weak rating.” Its current score, “marginal,” is a result of it being too small and its equipment being too old.
The common theme across those ratings is that the various services possess far less equipment and have far fewer men than they should. The Air Force is at 86% of its recommended strength and the army is even lower, at 62%. However, it received a higher rating because many of its Brigade Combat Teams are at a high state of readiness.
Brent Sadler, one of the found the “battle force fleet of 297 ships and intensified operational tempo combine to reveal a Navy that is much too small relative to its task.” Another author, Gordon Wood, noted that “more than half [the ships in the fleet} are over 20 years old” and that many of those aging ships are the Navy’s premier war vessels; it’s “fast-attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines and cruisers.”
The report, in the executive summary, notes that the standing Navy, if it is to be ready for a two-front war, should have at least 400 vessels and 624 strike aircraft.
The Navy is in particular trouble because of the shrinking supply of workers able to make the high-tech vessels that it needs. As USNI notes:
But on shipbuilding and maintenance, the index uses a troubling statistic that the numbers in the skilled labor force – welders and pipefitters – are shrinking and their wages dropping relative to inflation at a time when more workers would be needed to grow the fleet.
“Of particular concern is the increased production of nuclear-powered warships, most notably nuclear-powered submarines that would be vital in any conflict with China,” Sadler said. Building those assets becomes more questionable with the loss of skilled workers.
Overall, the report found that:
In the aggregate, the United States’ military posture continues to be rated “marginal” and features both positive and negative trends: progress in bringing some new equipment into the force, filling gaps in manpower, and rebuilding stocks of munitions and repair parts alongside worrisome trends in force readiness, declining strength in key areas like trained pilots, and continued uncertainty across the defense budget that is now having a negative effect both on major acquisition programs and on installation-level repair capabilities. The 2022 Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous MRCs.
This concerning report comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the armed forces. Senator Tom Cotton recently lambasted officers for pushing “anti-American indoctrination” on the troops, struggling services like the Navy have drawn accusations of focusing more on woke ideology than warfighting by demanding that servicemembers read books like How to Be an Anti-Racist, and reports such as Lohmeier’s Irresistible Revolution have charged that Marxist theory has pervaded the armed forces. The Heritage Report does not discuss those hot-button political issues and instead focuses on the material strength of the Armed Forces.