Report: US Military Capabilities Are Surprisingly Weak

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A new report released by the Heritage Foundation indicates that the U.S. military is slipping in its capabilities, and is much weaker than commonly thought, adding an entirely new element to the defense budget debate and the threat of sequestration.

Currently, the only branch of the U.S. military not operating at marginal levels is the Air Force. Low levels of staffing and lack of proper equipment are the primary factors for the poor ratings, which hit the Army and Marines especially hard. The Army is operating at 76 percent, and the Marine Corps is only operating at 69 percent of required capacity.

Despite staffing troubles which have left the Air Force’s drone program on the verge of collapse, the branch overall outperforms the rest of the military at a comfortable 92 percent of necessary capabilities. (RELATED: Air Force Drone Program On The Verge Of Collapse)

What this means is that the United States’ ability to act as a global power is in jeopardy, since the report argues that American needs to have a force capable of engaging in two major wars.

Right now, the military is incapable of meeting that requirement.

“[T]he U.S. military is too small and not ready to respond to a world of crises from Eastern Europe to East Asia.  The problem is now, not tomorrow,” confirmed Thomas Donnelly, defense policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing in early February.

The main problem is funding, but the problems are not restricted to a single administration. Underinvestment over long stretches of time has resulted in outdated weapons. While the U.S. is still ready to fight a single major regional war, at an event on Tuesday announcing the launch of the report, Dakota L. Wood, senior research fellow of defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, stated, “We should have enough forces to fight a war and backup forces in case another crisis flares up.”

As argued by the Heritage Foundation, Washington has no single, standardized index to even measure the military’s condition, but instead has to make do with dozens of overlapping and incomplete reports on the state of U.S. security affairs. This only serves to confuse an already complicated defense budget debate. The newly released Index of U.S. Military Strength, 300 pages long, intends to fill the gap and hint at the need for an increased defense budget, although the point of the index is descriptive, rather than prescriptive policy.

The public seems to largely agree with the need for increasing defense spending as well, marking a shift in opinion not seen since 2001, as determined by a recent Gallup poll. It found that 34 percent of Americans think that more funds need to be allocated to defense, as opposed to 32 percent in opposition. (RELATED: Poll: More Americans Want Higher Defense Spending)

But bigger budgets can’t be discussed without also mentioning the prospect of sequestration. The Obama administration’s defense budget of $534 billion dollars violates the Budget Control Act limits by around $36 billion dollars.

“Budget cuts and sequestration are undermining the department’s ability to maintain a robust and ready force, to retain the best and brightest people, and to invest in the capabilities that are going to be necessary to keep our technological edge and our military superiority in a more challenging future,” Michèle Flournoy, CEO of Center for a New American Security, stated in February.

Removing caps set in 2011 is not an easy task, and would require the Republicans to make significant comprises with the Democrats as to where the funds will come from. First, the GOP has to ensure that it even has enough support in its own party before it can begin serious negotiations with the opposition.

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Jonah Bennett