The U.S. military is shedding so many troops and weapons it is only “marginally able” to defend the nation and falls short of the Obama administration’s national security strategy, according to a new report by The Heritage Foundation on Tuesday.
“The U.S. military itself is aging. It’s shrinking in size,” said Dakota Wood, a Heritage analyst. “And it’s quickly becoming problematic in terms of being able to address more than one major conflict.”
President Obama’s latest strategy is to size the armed forces so that the four military branches have sufficient troops, ships, tanks and aircraft to win a large war, while simultaneously acting to “deny the objectives of — or impose unacceptable costs on — another aggressor in another region.”
In other words, the Quadrennial Defense Review says the military can essentially fight two major conflicts at once. It could defeat an invasion of South Korea by the North, for example, and stop Russia from invading Western Europe or Iran from conquering a Persian Gulf state.
But Heritage’s “2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength” took a look, in detail, at units and weapons, region by region, and came to a different conclusion.
“The U.S. military is rapidly approaching a one-war-capable force,” said Mr. Wood, a former Marine Corps officer and strategic planner. “So [it is] able to handle a major war and then having just a bit of residual capability to handle other minor crises that might pop up. … But it is a far cry from being a two-war force.”
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“The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force are putting it under significant pressure,” the report concluded. “The cumulative effect of such factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.”
The index report is part scorecard, part research tool.
It grades the Army, which is shrinking from 570,000 soldiers to 440,000 or lower, and the Navy, which is failing to achieve a 300-ship force, as only “marginal” in military power. The Air Force’s fleet of fighters and long-range bombers is judged “strong.”
Heritage says the military cannot fight two wars at once.
The report said the Army historically commits 21 brigade dombat teams to one war. Several years ago, that left just 21 more brigades for a second war and none for strategic reserve.
But the problem is more acute. The Army announced in 2013 it may go as low as 33 brigades, far short of the 50 brigades Heritage says are needed.
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The Army has been battered by automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration.” A bipartisan budget deal provided some relief last year, but the slashing could come back in 2016 without another agreement.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, has said that if the active force is squeezed down to 420,000 soldiers, it could not carry out all global commitments.
The Navy would need 346 ships to carry out two large campaigns, Heritage said, but its fleet is only 284.
At the report’s release, Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, talked of all the technological advancements that led to complete air superiority in the 1991 Desert Storm operation over Iraq.
Today, the House Armed Services Committee member said the Air Force “would say we are dangerously close to no longer being able to guarantee that air dominance that we could guarantee in Kuwait.”
“If you listen to the Army, they will give testimony they can no longer guarantee. You talk about two wars — they testified they can’t guarantee that we could win one war,” Mr. Forbes said. “The Navy will tell you if we get to 260 ships, we cease to be a superpower; we become a regional power.”
The Pentagon’s base budget, minus overseas war costs, has decreased under Mr. Obama, from $527 billion in 2010 to about $496 billion in each of the last three budgets. The president is asking for an increase in 2016 to $534 billion.
“The enemies that we have out there, and competitors, are making very smart investments accounting for their strategic objectives and interests,” Mr. Wood said.