NASHUA, NH – The US military urgently needs money, effort and resources to reverse a trend of neglect, mediocrity and obsolescence in the face of aggressive global adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, according to a report released last month by the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
The report, 2023 Index of US Military Strength, says the US Air Force is very weak, the Navy and Space Force are weak, and the military is marginal in its abilities to fight effectively in future two-front wars. . Only the US Marine Corps and nuclear forces are considered strong.
The key question is why. The answer involves a years-long failure to introduce new weapons systems to replace old ones, to effectively upgrade existing systems, and to provide adequate funding for combatant training.
“The common theme of the services and the U.S. nuclear enterprise is that of force degradation caused by many years of underinvestment, poor execution of modernization programs, and the negative effects of fiscal sequestration (funding cuts) on readiness and capability,” the report said. said.
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“Due to rising fuel, ammunition and spare parts costs, and a lack of trained maintainers and maintenance facilities, much of the progress made in regaining the readiness that had was made in 2020 and 2021 was lost in 2022,” the report continues. . “Projections for 2023 are also grim, given a proposed defense budget for 2023 that will not be enough to keep pace with continued and dramatic increases in inflation.”
Of all the military services, the Air Force is the worst off, considered very weak in its ability to achieve national military goals. Poor mission readiness and the physical location of fighter jets would make it difficult for the service to respond quickly to a crisis, Heritage Foundation analysts say.
The Air Force has “problems with pilot production and retention, extremely short cockpit time for pilots, and a fleet of aircraft that continues to age,” the report said. “The Air Force is currently at 86% capacity” needed to fight two wars simultaneously, analysts say.
The service “is short of 650 pilots, the average age of its fighter jet fleet is 32, and pilots fly just more than once a week on all aircraft types,” the report said. New aircraft like the F-35 and KC-46 are being introduced, but the pace is too slow.”
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The navy, meanwhile, lacks more than 100 ships to fight a war on two fronts. “The Navy needs a combat force of 400 manned ships to do what is expected of it today,” the report said. “The Navy’s current combat force fleet of 298 ships and the intensified operational tempo combine to reveal a service far too small for its tasks.”
This trend will be difficult to reverse. “If its current trajectory is maintained, the Navy will shrink to a further 280 ships by 2037,” the report said. “Current and projected funding levels will prevent the Navy from altering its decline unless Congress undertakes extraordinary efforts to increase funding assured for several years.”
The army is doing a little better. “While the Army has maintained its commitment to modernizing its forces for great power competition, its modernization programs are still in their developmental phase, and it will take a few years before they are ready for acquisition and deployment. in service,” the report said.
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In sum, the army is aging faster than it is modernizing and has only 62% of the strength it should have, according to analysts. The good news: 25 of its 31 regular brigade combat teams are at the highest level of readiness.
“The U.S. military is at increasing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests,” the report concludes. It will be up to Congress and future administrations to decide how best to deal with these lingering military problems.
The executive summary of the 2023 U.S. Military Strength Index is available online at https://www.heritage.org/military-strength/executive-summary.