The U.S. military is in need of more resources if it’s to continue the goal of being capable of fighting two major conflicts simultaneously, according to The Heritage Foundation’s 2022 Index of U.S. Military Strength.
The Heritage Foundation’s annual military index, which was first released in 2015, provides a sweeping overview of U.S. national security issues, as well as the military’s capacity to meet those challenges. The index’s benchmark is the forces required for the United States to be able to fight two major wars simultaneously—a strategy held by successive administrations for decades.
Heritage estimates that to meet this continued mandate, a fully equipped military would include an Army with 50 brigade combat teams, a Navy with 400 battle force ships and 624 strike aircraft, an Air Force with 1,200 fighter/ground-attack aircraft, and a Marine Corps with 30 battalions—as well as a Space Force with satellite platforms, ground stations, and personnel sufficient to support warfighting requirements.
In this context, the military is weakening in multiple areas, according to the think tank’s latest index, released Oct. 20.
For instance, the index downgraded the Air Force to “weak” from “marginal,” even though this branch has nearly all the physical equipment recommended for a two-front warfighting capability.
“A score of ‘weak’ in this area is the result of a shortage of pilots and flying time that implies a lack of effort or focused intent given the general reduction in operational deployments as U.S. actions overseas have ebbed,” Heritage said.
The index also rated the Navy as “marginal, trending toward weak” due to its aging fleet of 296 ships.
“It desperately needs a larger fleet of 400 ships, but current and forecasted levels of funding will prevent this from occurring for the foreseeable future,” the index said. “This has the unhappy effect of causing the service to age more rapidly than it can replace older ships, thus making it easier for major competitors to achieve technological parity.”
Another area trending downward is the military’s nuclear capability, which Heritage said is “strong, but trending towards marginal or even weak.”
“Current forces are assessed as reliable today, but nearly all components of the nuclear enterprise are at a tipping point with respect to replacement or modernization and have no margin left for delays in schedule,” the think tank said. “Failure of on-time appropriations and lack of administration support for nuclear modernization could lead to a rapid decline in this portfolio to ‘weak’ in future editions.”
One force to receive an upgrade is the Marine Corps, which Heritage bumped to “strong” from “marginal” for two main reasons: Unlike other forces, the Marines only have a one-war mandate; and because the Corps is undergoing a major modernization effort by replacing old equipment with new warfighting tools.
Meanwhile, the Army remains “marginal,” while Heritage provided its first ranking, “weak,” to the nascent Space Force.
“The service has done quite well in transitioning missions from the other services without interruption in support, but it does not have enough assets to track and manage the explosive growth in commercial and competitor-country systems being placed into orbit,” Heritage said of the Space Force. “The majority of its platforms have exceeded their planned life span, and modernization efforts to replace them are slow and incremental.”
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, spoke at an Oct. 20 Heritage event that released the index. According to Rogers, the index is more evidence that Congress needs to boost the military budget by 3 to 5 percent annually, indefinitely.
“One of the reasons why the National Defense Strategy Commission recommended 3 to 5 percent increases for the foreseeable future, is because you’re looking at least a decade for us to be able to not only repair and replace, but modernize and prepare for the wars of the future,” he said.
Others have questioned the long-term feasibility of such spending increases. National Taxpayers Union (NTU) analyst Andrew Lautz has pointed out that 5 percent annual increases would result in an additional $1.2 trillion in military spending above current projections over 10 years.
A Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study from earlier this month suggested alternative proposals that could save about $1 trillion over a decade. The CBO said the government could slightly downsize its active-duty military while relying more on alliances to ensure global stability.
The 5 percent increase is incorporated in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act passed last month by the House.