America’s Military in a Dangerous World

America’s Military in a Dangerous World

© David Burton 2022

Americ'a Military

     “For the first time, The Heritage Foundation’s Index of U.S. Military Strength finds that as currently postured, the U.S. military is rated “weak” and at significant risk of not being able to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while attending to various presence and engagement activities.
     “In late October 2022, the Heritage Foundation released its 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength. The release comes as the military faces a full-blown recruitment crisis and two successive years where the Biden administration submitted defense budget requests below the rate of inflation.
     “The military has seen a general erosion of capacity, capability, and readiness, but readiness and capacity issues across the force, particularly in the Air Force and Navy, have become so significant that the military’s ability to fulfill its primary mission is in jeopardy. Worsening the challenges for the force further are inflation and budget cuts, which account for a total loss of $59 billion in funding between 2018 and 2023 and are compounded by the limited assistance American allies can contribute to our shared security interests.
     “Meanwhile, America’s key adversaries - China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea - are advancing their military capabilities and intimidating U.S. partners. This can be seen by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and China and North Korea’s continued intimidation of neighboring countries such as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
     “The Index of U.S. Military Strength is a comprehensive, authoritative assessment of America’s military power, the operating environments around the world relevant to America’s vital national interests, and the threats posed to the United States by our adversaries. The Index gives each service a ‘capacity,’ ‘capability,’ ‘readiness,’ and ‘overall’ rating on the following scale: very weak, weak, marginal, strong, or very strong. Overall ratings are highlighted below:
     “Army: Marginal. The U.S. Army is aging faster than it is modernizing, receiving an overall ‘Marginal’ rating. A force only about 62% the size it should be earns the service a ‘weak’ rating for capacity. Funding uncertainties may threaten abilities to realize its goals.
     “Navy: Weak. The Navy is rated ‘weak,’ declining from “marginal” in 2022. Competitors are quickly narrowing the technology gap in their favor as the Navy’s ships decrease in numbers and abilities. Uncertainty that the administration and Congress will provide funding to combat these significant deficiencies leaves much up for question.
     “Marine Corps: Strong. The Marine Corps rating remains ‘strong’ from the 2022 Index rating. The score remains for two reasons: 1) The threshold for capacity decreased from 36 infantry battalions to 30 battalions in acknowledgment of the Corps’ argument that it is a one-war force that also stands ready for a broad range of smaller crisis-response tasks, and 2) because of the Corps’ extraordinary efforts to modernize and enhance its readiness during the assessed year. Lack of adequate funding has driven the Corps to pay for its modernization efforts at the expense of capacity, resulting in a reduction of infantry battalions to just 22 this year with plans to reduce to 21 in fiscal year 2023.
     “Air Force: Very Weak. This Air Force rating is a downgrade from an assessment of ‘weak’ in the 2022 Index. Aging aircraft and poor pilot training and retention continue to degrade the ability of the Air Force to generate quality combat air power needed to meet wartime requirements. It would be difficult for the Air Force to respond rapidly to a crisis and dominate airspace without increased pilot training and numbers of fifth-generation weapon systems.
     “Space Force: Weak. The Space Force rating is measured as ‘weak’ not due to lack of expertise but because capacity of the service falls short of the demands placed on it. While the Space Force has transitioned missions from other services without interruption in support, it does not have enough assets to track and manage the explosive growth in commercial and competitor-country systems being placed in orbit. The force also lacks defensive and offensive counter-space capabilities.
     “Nuclear Capability: Strong. Bipartisan commitment to the modernization of the entire nuclear enterprise retains the grade of “strong.” However, the reliability of the U.S. delivery systems and warheads is at risk as they age. Future assessments will need to consider plans to adjust America’s nuclear forces and account for the doubling of peer nuclear threats.
     “Heritage Foundation President Dr. Kevin Roberts, made the following statement:
     “ ‘While America’s adversaries, particularly the Chinese Community Party, make chilling strides to challenge American leadership on the world stage and surpass our nation militarily, the professional political class is consumed with branding climate change as a national security crisis, injecting divisive ideology into the military, and undermining military readiness.
     “ ‘Biden’s reckless, naive foreign policy continues to embolden our adversaries, while his domestic agenda undermines the strength of our military. There is no question that under his failed leadership the strength of our military has hit an all-time low. [Emphasis mine}
     “ ‘Politicians have no excuses. This Index and Heritage’s solutions for restoring military readiness provides lawmakers with every tool needed to ensure they protect America’s interests. If we want to fight to save America’s future, we must have a military ready to protect our interests at home and abroad.’
     “Retired Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, Heritage senior research fellow and editor of the Index, made the following statement:
     “ ‘Heritage publishes the Index of U.S. Military Strength to help lawmakers understand the state of our military and the challenges we face. As our adversaries enhance their defense programs and nuclear capabilities, the Biden administration continues to prove they lack the capability to provide for the common defense at the most basic level: funding. As we face an increasing list of nuclear-capable adversaries and the provocative regimes in Beijing and Moscow, the Left continues to jeopardize the safety and security of Americans. Now, nearly all of our military branches are suffering as a result, and the men and women who serve in them put at increasing risk. If this trend continues, we will not be able to meet the demands of defending our national interests.’
     “Since the inaugural 2015 edition of the Index of U.S. Military Strength, The Heritage Foundation has documented a steady decline in various aspects of U.S. military strength and the 2023 Index makes clear that improvements are desperately needed across the services. The Index, a one-of-a-kind assessment, serves as an invaluable guide in educating both policymakers and the American public about the state of U.S. military readiness, and how prepared the United States is to face the changing threats in an increasingly dangerous world.
     “The entire 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength is available {from the Heritage Foundation}.
     “”In addition, Heritage’s Center for National Defense has numerous policy recommendations for addressing the Index’s assessment of the U.S. military. They include:

  • "Improvements to the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
  • “Increasing funding for the military services, offset by savings as described in Heritage’s Budget Blueprint.  
  • “Increasing the number of shipyards and identify ways to increase the Navy’s manpower and firepower through a more integrated long range shipbuilding plan to better deter China. 
  • “Adhering to U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Force Design 2030 Blueprint.
  • “Removing unreasonable limitations on the procurement of the F-35 fighter.
  • "Addressing the military recruitment crisis by exploring ways to incentivize and motivating young people to serve, and ensuring the military recruiters have the resources and access they need to be more effective. 
  • “Changing the downward trajectory of the U.S. Army.”(Ref. 1)
     It is claimed that, “The hapless regime of Joe Biden and the Democrat-controlled Congress have combined to produce the weakest U.S. military in decades, and just in time for global threat levels to be at their highest.” (Ref. 2)

     Former Trump National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien reacted to the Heritage Foundation 2023 Index of US Military Strength ranking military branches like the Air Force as "very weak" and the Navy as "weak." On Fox & Friends on 19 October 2020, O'Brien said he's "very concerned" because the report calls into question whether the military can effectively fight one war at the present time.
     According to O’Brien, what's so worrying about this report is that the US military used to be designed to be able to fight two and a half wars. This report says we may not be able to fight one war effectively. The U.S. needs to rebuild the military. It needs to replenish the stocks of everything that we've sent to Ukraine. The U.S. military is low on missiles, It’s low on javelins. It’s low on stingers. It can't supply them to Taiwan now. The U.S. needs to modernize its nuclear triad at a time that Vladimir Putin and the Chinese are threatening us with nuclear war.
     The United States needs to rebuild the Navy, which is in terrible shape right now. It had a plan to build a 355-ship Navy. That's sidelined now, and the Navy is trying to retire some of its best ships: its cruisers and its guided missile cruisers. The military has to get its recruitment crisis under control and start inspiring young Americans to join the service again. There's a lot to do. Unfortunately, we're not spending the money. There's a nominal increase in defense spending, but it's been wiped out and eaten up by inflation. The miniscule increase in defense spending under the Biden administration is actually a massive decrease because of the inflation that we're facing.[3]

     America is a global power with global interests. Consequently, its military is tasked with defending the country from attack and protecting its national interests on a corresponding global scale. The United States does not have the luxury of focusing only on one geographic area or narrow challenge to its interests. Its economy depends on global trade; it has obligations with many allies; and it must account for several major competitors that routinely, consistently, and aggressively challenge its interests and seek to displace its influence in key regions. It follows that its military should be commensurately sized for the task and possess the necessary tools, skills, and readiness for action. Beyond that, the U.S. military must be capable of protecting the freedom to use the global commons - the sea, air, space, and cyberspace domains on which American prosperity and political influence depend.
     However, today it appears that the U.S. does not have the necessary force to address more than one major regional contingency (MRC) and is not ready to carry out its duties effectively. As a result, the U.S. finds itself increasingly challenged both by major competitors such as China and Russia and by the destabilizing effects of terrorist and insurgent elements operating in regions that are of substantial interest to the U.S. Russia’s large-scale, conventional invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is proof that war in regions of interest to the U.S. remains a feature of modern times - something that is not lost on China as it expands its military power and threatens Japan and other U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region more aggressively. Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Japan, and several other countries have taken note of this and are committed to substantially improving the capacity, capability, and readiness of their military forces. The United States, however, has not made a similar commitment.
     The COVID-19 disease affected the ability of U.S. forces to train, exercise, and deploy for much of 2020 and 2021. It also caused disruptions in supply and maintenance activities similar to those experienced in the civilian community. In 2022, its impact was less troublesome as measures to reduce risk and mitigate challenges took effect. Some of the readiness that was lost has been regained, but other factors, like inadequate funding for parts and flight hours, have slowed the pace of progress.
     Military power consists of many elements and is the result of how all of its constituent pieces are brought together to create an effective warfighting force, but it begins with the people and equipment used to conduct war: the weapons, tanks, ships, airplanes, and supporting tools that make it possible for a force to impose its will on another or to prevent such an outcome from happening, which is the point of deterrence.
     However, simply counting the number of people, tanks, or combat aircraft that the U.S. possesses would be insufficient because it would lack context.
     Success in war is partly a function of matching the tools of warfare to a specific task and employing those tools effectively in battle. Get these wrong - tools, objective, competence, or context - and you lose.
     Another key element is the military’s capacity to conduct operations: how many of the right tools - people, tanks, planes, or ships - it has. One might have the right tools and know how to use them effectively but not have enough to win. Because one cannot know with certainty beforehand just when, where, against whom, and for what reason a battle might be fought, determining how much capability is needed is an exercise that requires informed but not certain judgment. The war in Ukraine is a powerful illustration of this. By the numbers, Russia should have achieved a quick victory over the smaller, less modern Ukrainian military. For various reasons that include leadership, tactics, training, and resupply, the Ukrainians have performed much better than the Russians, who have performed poorly overall.
     Further, two different combatants can use the same set of tools in radically different ways to quite different effects. The concept of employment matters. Concepts are developed to account for numbers, capabilities, material readiness, and all sorts of other factors that enable or constrain one’s actions, such as whether one fights alone or alongside allies, on familiar or strange terrain, or with a large, well-equipped force or a small, poorly equipped force. A thinking adversary will analyze his opponent for weaknesses or patterns of behavior and seek to develop techniques, approaches, and tools that exploit such shortfalls or predictable patterns - the asymmetries of war.
     This appears to be what China is doing. Having analyzed U.S. forces, performance characteristics of U.S. platforms and weapons, and the geography and basing options affecting U.S. defense posture in the Indo-Pacific, China has invested heavily in shore-based long-range missiles, an extensive fleet of ships optimized for the local maritime environment, and a deepening inventory of guided munitions. China does not need a force that mirrors that of the United States: Instead, it is building a force that leverages the asymmetries between China’s situation and that of the United States.
     All of these factors and a multitude of others affect the outcome of any military contest. Military planners attempt to account for them when devising requirements, developing training and exercise plans, formulating war plans, and advising the President in his role as Commander in Chief of U.S. military forces.
     Measuring hard combat power in terms of its capability, capacity, and readiness to defend U.S. vital interests is difficult, but it is not impossible. However difficult the task, the Secretary of Defense and the military services have to make such decisions every year when the annual defense budget request is submitted to Congress.
     The adequacy of hard power is affected most directly by the resources the nation is willing to apply. Although that decision is informed to a significant degree by an appreciation of threats to U.S. interests and the ability of a given defense portfolio to protect U.S. interests against such threats, it is not informed solely by such considerations; hence the importance of clarity and honesty in determining exactly what is needed in terms of hard power and the status of such power from year to year.
     Administrations take various approaches in determining the type and amount of military power needed and, by extension, the amount of money and other resources that will be necessary to support that power. After defining the national interests to be protected, the DOD can use worst-case scenarios to determine the maximum challenges the U.S. military might have to overcome. Another way is to redefine what constitutes a threat. By taking a different view of whether major actors pose a meaningful threat and of the extent to which friends and allies have the ability to assist the U.S. in meeting security objectives, one can arrive at different conclusions about the necessary level of military strength.
     For example, one administration might view China as a rising belligerent power bent on dominating the Asia–Pacific region. Another administration might view China as an inherently peaceful rising economic power and the expansion of its military capabilities as a natural occurrence commensurate with its strengthening status. There can be dramatically different perspectives with respect to how China might use its military power and what would constitute an effective U.S. response, and the difference between these perspectives can have a dramatic impact on how one thinks about U.S. defense requirements. So, too, can policymakers amplify or downplay risk to justify defense budget decisions.
     There also can be strongly differing views on requirements for operational capacity.
  • Does the country need enough for two major combat operations (MCOs) at roughly the same time or just enough for a single major operation and some number of lesser cases?
  • To what extent should “presence” tasks - the use of forces for routine engagement with partner countries or simply to be on hand in a region for crisis response - be in addition to or a subset of a military force that is sized to handle two major regional conflicts?
  • How much value should be assigned to advanced technologies as they are incorporated into the force, especially if they have not been proven in combat settings?
  • What is the likelihood of conventional war, and (if one thinks it is minimal) what level of risk is one willing to accept that sufficient warning will allow for rearming?
     America’s security interests require that the services have the capacity to handle two major regional conflicts (MRC’s) successfully.
     The two-MRC benchmark for force sizing is the minimum standard for U.S. hard-power capacity because one will never be able to employ 100% of the force at any given time. Some percentage of the force will always be unavailable because of long-term maintenance overhaul, especially for Navy ships; unit training cycles; employment in myriad engagement and small-crisis response tasks that continue even during major conflicts; a standing commitment with allies to maintain U.S. forces in a given country or region; and the need to keep some portion of the force uncommitted to serve as a strategic reserve.
     Force structure size is the number of units and total number of personnel the services say they need to meet the objectives established by the Commander in Chief and the Secretary of Defense in their strategic guidance. Estimates of needed forces size structure have not been met in recent years.
     The Marine Corps has stated that it needs 27 infantry battalions to fully satisfy the validated requirements of the regional Combatant Commanders, yet it currently fields only 22 and has stated that it plans to drop to 21 in order to make resources available for experimentation and modernization.
     In 2012, the Army was building toward 48 brigade combat teams, but incremental budget cuts reduced that number over time to 31 - less than two-thirds the number that the Army originally thought was necessary.
     The Navy has produced various assessments of fleet size since the end of the Cold War, from 313 ships to 372 ships with some working estimates as high as 500 manned ships.[4]

     In mid-2021, it was reported that America’s military experts continued to have concerns about how many ships there were in the U.S. Navy inventory, warning that competing maritime powers such as China were growing in naval strength and might soon have ocean dominance.
     Since December 2016, the Navy had been calling for a fleet of at least 355 ships, up from its existing battle-force total of fewer than 300. This was the minimum number leaders had said was required to conduct all required global missions.
     The 30-year shipbuilding plan released by the Navy in 2020 had the service not reaching a fleet of 355 ships until 2049. It expected to build its active ship total to 305 by the end of 2021.[5]

     As the end of 2022 neared, the Biden Administration had not yet produced a national defense strategy to replace the one issued by the Trump Administration in 2018, although it had released an Interim National Security Strategic Guidance (INSSG) that echoed the general goal for the U.S. military to “deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and our allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions,” all of which are themes that had remained remarkably consistent from one administration to the next for several decades. Taken at face value and considering the challenges posed simultaneously by a multitude of competitors in several regions, the INSSG seems to imply that the military should have the capability and capacity to meet this objective.
     Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 was the first of the Biden Administration, and the President’s party also controlled both chambers of Congress. The Administration initially requested $715 billion for the base discretionary budget of the Department of Defense (DOD), which was a mere 1.6% increase over the previous fiscal year’s budget.
     This relative frugality stood in stark contrast to the massive increases requested for other federal departments: increases of more than 40% for the Department of Education, more than 14% for the Department of Transportation, and more than 29% for the Department of Commerce.
     Congressional leaders saw Biden’s proposal as inadequate, and both chambers acted through the appropriations and authorization bills to increase the defense budget by $27.3 billion over the requested amount. The argument that carried the day was based on the need to stop the divestment of combat-relevant assets, marginally increase the procurement of hardware, and further invest in research and development of emerging technologies.
     This increase represented both a rejection of platform retirements proposed by the Biden Administration and Congress’s assessment of what was needed to tackle the challenges and threats faced by our armed forces.
     With the congressional increase, the FY 2022 defense budget was 7.3% higher in nominal terms than the FY 2021 budget. Unfortunately, FY 2022 was also marked by the return of inflationary levels that the nation had not experienced for 40 years: By the end of 2021, inflation had reached 7% percent. In 2022 inflation continued rising.
     Inflation affects the defense budget as much as it does any household budget. Therefore, the price of merely maintaining our current force structure has risen considerably in the past year and is likely to rise further in the coming years as inflation continues to raise costs.
     FY 2022 was also affected by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The war started on February 24, 2022, but the FY 2022 budget was signed into law on March 15, 2022.
     Though FY 2022 started 5.5 months before passage of the full-year appropriations bill, the delayed start of the actual budget allowed it to be adjusted to account for the war in Ukraine. The appropriations law for FY 2022 included $13.6 billion in assistance to Ukraine. Because of the need to replenish the stocks of weapons being shipped to Ukraine and to pay for the redeployment of American troops to Europe, the war’s budgetary impacts on America’s armed forces will continue.
     The consequences of the sharp reductions in funding mandated by sequestration over the past decade have caused military service officials, senior DOD officials, and even Members of Congress to warn of the dangers of re-creating the “hollow force” of the 1970s when units existed on paper but were staffed at reduced levels, minimally trained, and woefully ill-equipped.[4]

     The United States has enjoyed an unprecedented global hegemony since the end of the cold war in 1989. The collapse of the USSR had provided the United States an opportunity to expand its liberal order in the global world.
     The reason for America’s unchallenged supremacy was the absence of a parallel competitor, coupled with internal stability at home.
     In addition, there were relatively few global challenges that could create trouble for the United States. But, now, the United States is facing dangerous times: the emergence of new global competitors like China; the threats to democracy at home - the Trump mind-set; the Russian war against the Ukraine and Russia’s ambitions towards the U.S. allies in Europe.
     These factors have contributed to create a dangerous situation for the United States in its attempts to maintain peace and order in the global world.
     China has, in recent years, emerged as an economic and military threat to America. An eminent American scholar of international relations professor John Mearsheimer has argued in his book, Why china Cannot Rise Peacefully, that the rise of China as global power will threaten the American political and economic power. While the US may try to maintain the balance of power by containing China. This will eventually involve the US in a conflict with China.
     Moreover, the Chinese ambitions towards its neighboring states may threaten US security interests in the Far East: the South China Sea issue, the Taiwan issue and the East China Sea issue. To contain China both militarily and economically would be a dangerous quagmire for the United States.
     The ‘Russian factor’ had overwhelmed the American foreign policy makers throughout the cold war. Since 1945, the United States had taken responsibility for the security of the western hemisphere. America’s policy had been proven effective in deterring Russian aggression by strengthening the NATO.
     However, after U.S. engagement in the other global political and security problems, Russian aggression is again on the rise and is directly threatening U.S. allies in Europe. The Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 was an eye-opening event for the U.S. security establishment. The Obama administration did not act against the Russian expansionism because the United States was already occupied in Iraq and Afghanistan.
     The Obama administration was reluctant to enter into conflict front with Russia. However, the recent Russian attack on Ukraine has compelled the United States to revisit its foreign policy towards Russia’s aggressive ambitions. Meanwhile, there is a growing distress among America’s NATO allies that the United States is reluctant to take concrete action against Russia. Thus, the Ukraine-Russian conflict has become a difficult and a dangerous situation for the United States.[6]
  1. Heritage Foundation Releases 2023 Index of U.S. Military Strength, Gives U.S. Military First-Ever ‘Weak’ Overall Rating,, 18 October 2022.
  2. U.S. military degrading rapidly under Biden, Dem-controlled Congress… now rated “weak” even as global threats are rising, JD Heyes, NEWSTARGET, 20 October 2022.
  3. New report on US military weakness is 'very concerning,' says former Trump national security adviser,
    Fox News staff, Fox News, 19 October 2022.
  4. Introduction: An Assessment of U.S. Military Power,, 18 October 2022.
  5. Active Ships in the US Navy, Hope Hodge Seck,, 23 June 2021.
  6. A Dangerous Time for the United States Of America, Asim Ali, Friday Times, 1 October 2022.

  17 Nov 2022 {Article 554; Gov't_97}    
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