The U.S. military is facing a readiness crisis years in the making at the exact time it is being called upon to provide an unprecedented range of options across the globe, Heritage Foundation expert Dakota Wood warns on the website War On The Rocks.
“The military is now in a death spiral: too small for its workload; underfunded to repair and replace the equipment it is rapidly wearing out; ill-served by obsolescent critical infrastructure at its ports, bases, and airfields, and increasingly unready for the rigors and scope of a major conventional conflict should the United States find itself drawn into one, which has happened every 20 years or so with frightful regularity since the Civil War,” Wood warns in an op-ed published Wednesday.
Wood starkly lays out some of the shortfalls in readiness including:
The U.S. Air Force is 24 percent short of the fighters it needs. It is also short 1,000 pilots and over 3,000 maintainers. Only four of its 32 combat-coded squadrons are ready to execute all wartime missions.
The Marine Corps “is insufficiently manned, trained and equipped across the depth of the force to operate in an ever-evolving operational environment,” according to Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. Only 41 percent of the Corps’ aviation platforms are considered flyable.
At only 276 combatants, the Navy has two-thirds the ships it did near the end of the Cold War. It now has the smallest battle fleet since before World War I. Of its 18 classes of ships, only seven are currently in production. The recent spate of ship collisions and a grounding imply problems in basic ship-handling skills.
Currently, of the Army’s 31 brigade combat teams only three would be available to immediately deploy to a conflict. As recently as 2012, the Army had 45 brigade combat teams and nearly the entire Army was involved in the rotational base supporting combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These military shortfalls are particularly troubling given the deployment of U.S. troops across the globe and engagement in multiple combat theaters simultaneously. These include thousands of troops in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, along with advisory missions in dozens of other countries.
President Donald Trump also appeared to show some frustration in a recent meeting with military leaders telling them he need options “at a much faster pace” when asked.
The massive gap in readiness and immediate capability of the military has its roots in the 2011 Budget Control Act signed by President Barack Obama. “The BCA put budget caps on discretionary spending for 10 years, ending in 2021, and established a 12-member congressional “supercommittee” to find at least $1.2 trillion in additional savings over that same 10-year window,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas explained in a recent WSJ op-ed.
Cotton elaborated that the law “The law stipulated that should the committee fail, there would be an across-the-board cut, or “sequester,” to keep spending below the caps. Half the savings would come from the defense budget and half from nondefense spending, meaning the military would absorb 50% of the cuts, even though it accounts for only about 16% of all spending.”
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