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Under Biden the United States’ military posture must be rated as ‘weak’

The Heritage Foundation’s 2024 Index of U.S. Military Strength has just been released and it throws into stark relief the degradation of what was once the world’s preeminent military power.


The authors of the study concluded that, in the aggregate, the United States’ military posture must be rated as “weak.” The Air Force is rated “very weak,” the Navy and Space Force are “weak,” and the U.S. Army and nuclear portfolio are “marginal.” The Marine Corps is “strong,” but the Corps is a one-war force, and its overall strength is therefore not sufficient to compensate for the shortfalls of its larger fellow services.


With respect to nuclear capabilities, the authors concluded that, if the United States should need to deploy nuclear weapons, the escalation into nuclear conflict would seem to imply that handling such a crisis would challenge even a fully ready Joint Force at its current size and equipped with modern weapons.



Additionally, the war in Ukraine, which threatens to destabilize not just Europe but the economic and political stability of other regions, shows that some actors (in this case Russia) will not necessarily be deterred from conventional action even though the U.S. maintains a strong nuclear capability, which is how this critical military capability was assessed in the 2023 Index; the decline of America’s nuclear portfolio to “marginal” makes this even more worrisome. Thus, strong conventional forces of necessary size are essential to America’s ability to respond to emergent crises in areas of special interest.


The 2024 Index also concludes that the current U.S. military force is at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict (MRC) while also attending to various presence and engagement activities. The force would probably not be able to do more and is certainly ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous MRCs—a situation that is made more difficult by the generally weak condition of key military allies.



 In general, the military services continue to prioritize readiness and have seen some improvement over the past few years, but modernization programs, especially in shipbuilding and the production of fifth-generation combat aircraft, continue to suffer as resources are committed to preparing for the future, recovering from 20 years of operations, and offsetting the effects of inflation.


In the case of the Air Force, some of its limited acquisition funds are being spent on aircraft of questionable utility in high-threat scenarios while R&D receives a larger share of funding than efforts meant to replace quite aged aircraft are receiving. As observed in the 2021 through 2023 editions of the Index, the services have normalized reductions in the size and number of military units, the forces remain well below the level needed to meet the two-MRC benchmark, and substantial difficulties in recruiting young Americans to join the military services are frustrating even modest proposals just to maintain service end strength.

 

Congress and the Administration took positive steps to stabilize funding in the latter years of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). This mitigated the worst effects of BCA-restricted funding, but sustained investment in rebuilding the force to ensure that America’s armed services are properly sized, equipped, trained, and ready to meet the missions they are called upon to fulfill will be critical.


This is amplified by the extent to which the United States has drawn from its inventories of munitions and equipment to support Ukraine’s defense and the extent to which the defense industry has been limited in its ability to replenish depleted stocks, much less support the expansion and deepening of U.S. capabilities in preparation for any other conflict.


At present, the Administration’s proposed FY 2024 defense budget falls far short of what the services need to regain readiness and replace aged equipment, and Congress’s intention to increase the proposed budget by approximately 3.5 percent over the FY 2023 budget accounts for barely half of the current rate of inflation, which averaged 8 percent in calendar year 2022 and 4.6 percent from January–July 2023.


As currently postured, the U.S. military is at significant risk of not being able to defend America’s vital national interests with assurance. It is rated as “weak” relative to the force needed to defend national interests on a global stage against actual challenges in the world as it is rather than as we wish it were.


This is the inevitable result of years of sustained use, underfunding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution, and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to U.S. interests have surged.


In 2023, this has been compounded by the cost of U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s assault, which is further exacerbated by the limited willingness of allies in Europe to shoulder a greater share of the support burden.


This was made worse by Hamas’s barbaric attack on Israel, which prompted the U.S. to provide equipment, munitions, and missile defense resources to Israel to aid in its defense, further pressuring America’s defense posture.


These wars have laid bare the limited inventories of equipment, munitions, and supplies of all supporting countries as well as the limitations of the industrial base that will be required to replenish them, especially in the U.S., which must always look to its core national security interests.

 

Once again, concluded the authors of the Heritage Foundation’s 2024 Index of U.S. Military Strength, future security threats cannot be predicted in their time, place, and severity, but they are nevertheless knowable with certainty because history has demonstrated repeatedly that threats arise with regularity in spite of efforts to deter and thwart them; that they often appear in complex arrangements of enemies, timing, and location; and that the time available to build capacity and readiness to deal with them is always in short supply. It is therefore incumbent on national leaders and the American people to approach investing in the nation’s security with the utmost seriousness and consistency. Otherwise, everything the United States is and represents is at substantial risk.



  • Heritage Foundation

  • 2024 Index of U.S. Military Strength

  • Air Force

  • Space Force

  • Navy

  • Marine Corps

  • Army

  • nuclear capabilities

  • military readiness

  • War in Ukraine

  • Russia

  • conventional forces

  • major regional conflicts

  • modernization

  • 5th generation combat aircraft

  • military recruiting

  • Biden administration

  • Israel Hamas War




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