The State of the U.S. Military

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The U.S. government’s primary job is to provide for the common defense. The most important element to protecting vital national interests is the U.S. military, which reinforces America’s diplomatic initiatives, acts to deter threats, and, when necessary, fights and wins the nation’s wars.

Two primary components determine a strong military: the quality of its servicemembers, and the modern, tech­nologically advanced equipment available to them.

After nearly a decade of continuous warfare–and coming off a previous decade of underinvestment in next-generation equipment and systems in the 1990s and dramatically reduced force levels–America’s military per­sonnel remain exceptional but are stressed, experiencing reduced readiness levels and lacking diverse training. The military’s equipment is old and getting older in part because it is employed at breakneck wartime rates.

The range of potential missions facing today’s military is vast. While winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remains a central mission, regional combatant commanders must also respond to humanitarian disasters, protect sea lines of communication and free trade, deter rogue states through a credible extended deterrence posture, and hedge against the future uncertainty that accompanies the rise of powers like China and Russia.

Regrettably, the tools required to sustain all of these efforts are in jeopardy. The collective decisions by Congress and both Democratic and Republican Presidents over the past 15 years have left the U.S. military using equipment that is extremely old and, in many cases, outdated.

While compensation for military personnel continues to rise necessarily and deservedly, defense investment in modern systems to replace the vast arsenal of the military’s high-end platforms, like ships, planes, and tanks, is falling. Not only is investment in modern equipment declining, but the military in general has been buying less for the past 15 years.

After the Cold War ended, the Clinton Administration believed an era of peace was at hand. Consequently, the President and Congress cut both the size of the military and the funding for modernization far below what was nec­essary to sustain American capabilities.

While President George W. Bush increased spending on the military, it was not enough to remedy the shortfalls of the 1990s, particularly with ongoing operations overseas since 2001. As a result, the military’s capital inventory has become largely outdated.

The impact of collective decisions made over the past 15 years and the operations tempo of U.S. forces abroad means that today America is in danger of losing vital core security capabilities without increased investment. This includes the potential loss of core defense capabilities such as air dominance, maritime control, space control, and projecting power to distant regions.

Mackenzie Eaglen is Research Fellow for National Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

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