Two of America’s four military branches declined over the past year, and the others are rated only “marginal” in their ability to protect American interests, according to the “2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength,” released by The Heritage Foundation.
This growing weakness, coupled with increasing strength and aggressiveness from potentially hostile nations such as North Korea, Russia, and China, makes for a growing and dangerous instability in regions throughout the world, the Index authors conclude. They identify North Korea as the preeminent emerging threat.
“Threats against American interests are stronger and more numerous than a year ago; key regions are more unstable, and our military capabilities have weakened further over the past year. These are very disturbing trends,” said Dakota Wood, senior editor of the Index.
All four branches of the military face severe readiness, capability, or capacity challenges. Three of the services were rated as “marginal” in their ability to contribute adequate combat power. The Army fared worse, earning a “weak” rating overall. Both Army and Marine Corps earned poor “capacity” scores, meeting only 64 percent of their manpower needs. The Navy and Air Force were rated as “marginal” due primarily to inadequate modernization and equipment replacement programs.
North Korea became the first country to be classified in the Index as a “severe” threat to vital U.S. interests. The nation garnered the rating after boosting its military capability, to include development of a likely nuclear-capable missile able to reach the U.S., and ramping up its hostile behavior—such as the November 2014 cyberattack on Sony and opening fire on South Korea this August during the South’s annual joint military exercises with U.S. forces.
The one-of-a-kind Index provides an in-depth analysis of global threats to vital U.S. interests and our armed forces’ ability to prevail against them. It concludes that, overall, U.S. armed forces do not have sufficient ability to handle more than one major conflict at a time. A two-war contingency has been a longstanding security objective.
The deterioration in America’s hard power continued last year primarily because of inadequate funding, the Index reports. The national defense budget has been cut 15 percent over the last four years. That has led to a shrinking military force operating aging equipment and a reduced ability to train that has lowered combat readiness levels over branches.
The Index analyzes three components that impact the security of the U.S.: the ability of the military to defend U.S. security interests, the nature and severity of major threats to those interests, and the environments (presence/absence of allies, geographic challenges, etc.) in which U.S. forces would have to operate.