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Report: US Military Power 'Marginal' or 'Weak' in Most Categories

By    |   Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 08:46 PM

Only "32 percent of the active Army" is "ready for combat"; only seven classes of the U.S. Navy’s 18 classes of ships are currently in production, with the Navy’s overall capability "weak"; and the Marine Corps’ current 25 battalions fall far short of the 36 necessary for the key benchmark of dealing simultaneously with two major wars in different regions of the world.

Those are some of the chilling conclusions of the first annual Heritage Foundation Index of U.S. Military Strength, released to the public Tuesday morning.

Another finding was that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is weak in four of 10 categories examined, including the current capabilities of the laboratories and plants where nuclear weapons are developed, produced and tested.

"The U.S. cannot produce more than a trivial number of new warheads," says the new Heritage report, and "There are limits on the ability to conduct life extension programs."

Addressing the possibility of strategic military surprises confronting the U.S. in various parts of the globe, former Pentagon strategic competitiveness chief Daniel Goure, one of the report’s contributors, asserted that "one of the central operating assumptions" of the Obama administration’s defense policy has been "that this country would not again engage in a large-scale and sustained stability operation" such as in Iraq during the last decade.

"This assumption was the basis for slashing the size of the active U.S. Army from a high of 570,000 troops to some 450,000," according to Goure. But the "recent blitzkrieg" that took the Islamist State (ISIS) "almost to the gates of Baghdad should be enough to convince any reasonable observer that this is a bad time to be reducing the size of the U.S. military."

Relying on dozens of sources that include many hours of congressional testimony from the various military branches, budgetary disclosures, and independent analyses, the 311-page report’s methodology focused on primary combat units and platforms, such as tanks, ships and planes.

It takes the view that "Modernized sub-systems and components" and "New technologies grafted onto aging platforms" to keep up with technological innovations are no substitute for replacing the platforms themselves.

The report’s historical comparisons in force strength are jarring, in particular the total U.S. Army "end strength," defined as the maximum number of personnel authorized by the federal budget at the close of the fiscal year — of 738,000 during the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War compared to today’s 490,000.

Going beyond raw numbers, however, the report uses a five-category scoring system — very strong, strong, marginal, weak, and very weak — in assessing the capacity, capability, and readiness of the four branches of the military.

The Army’s readiness was determined to be "weak" because, as the Army itself admitted last October, only 12 out of a total 38 brigade combat teams "were ready for action at the end of FY 2014."

Heritage scored the Army’s capability as "marginal," but the sub-category of "capability of equipment" was judged "weak," with the report noting that "much of the Army’s equipment was originally designed in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s."

It added that "Even with upgrades and modifications, older designs" can be no match to modern weapons — such as the demonstrated "vulnerability to legacy ground vehicles to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and modern anti-armor weapons in Iraq."

The Army’s capacity was "scored at the low end of 'marginal'" because the ability to fight two major theater wars (or in current military parlance, "major regional contingencies") would require 50 brigade combat teams, not just the current 38, meeting just 76 percent of that benchmark.

The U.S. Navy is assessed as "weak" on capability, "marginal" on capacity, but "strong" on readiness. The current intent to reach a total of 30 attack submarines is "well short of the 48 attack submarines the Navy requires."

The small surface combatant fleet was supposed to be slated at a purchase of 52 Littoral (close to shore) Combat Ships, "but the number has recently been reduced to 32 ships."

The planned purchase of 280 Navy F-35C aircraft, the fifth-generation stealth-equipped fighter that replaces the F-18 Hornet, "will not be enough to make up for the Hornets the Navy will need to replace," according to the Heritage report.

Navy capacity requires 13 aircraft carriers to fight two major theater wars and have a 20 percent strategic reserve; the fiscal 2014 requirement is only 10. Fighting two such wars simultaneously plus reserve requires 50 amphibious warships; the FY 2014 capacity is only 31.

Some good news was that regarding readiness, the Navy made up shortfalls from the federal budget sequester of 2013, when 66 percent of the Navy was "not full-mission capable." The reduction that caused in the Navy’s ability to surge in response to a major conflict was partially rectified by increased FY 2014 funding.

More qualified good news came from the Air Force, where both capacity and readiness were found "strong," but capability was "marginal." In the sub-category of "capability of equipment," however, Heritage scored the Air Force "weak."

The Air Force’s "number one priority," the F-35A next-generation fighter, replacing the F-16 and other planes, "is riddled with problems (including technological delays, significant cost growth, production delays, and budget cuts) that have slowed development" by years. The still-in-development KC-46 refueling tanker, is also experiencing delays, and will only replace less than half of the 391 older tanker models in current inventory.

Marine Corps capacity was judged "weak," while its capability and readiness were scored "marginal." The Corps is expected to reach an end strength of 182,100 active personnel during the current fiscal year. But in 2010, the Marines "determined that its ideal force size would be 186,800."

It ultimately accepted that the lesser number could "be afforded with reduced modernization and infrastructure support." But the Heritage report warns that the reduced capacity could increase Marine deployment frequency and "worsen the degradation of readiness" because of "less time to recover between deployments."

With its current 25 battalions, "The Corps is operating with 69 percent of the number of battalions" needed for two simultaneous wars. Heritage also gave the Marines a "weak" score in the sub-category of "capability of equipment," with its main combat vehicles all having entered service in the 1970s and ‘80s. But the Marine Corps also got a "strong" score on the sub-category focusing on the extent of its modernization program.

The U.S. nuclear arsenal might be the most disturbing of all the areas examined in the report. On the modernization of both warheads and delivery systems, test readiness, and the facilities where nuclear weapons are made and serviced, the score was "weak" all around.

On warhead safety, lab talent, and test readiness, the report issued a score of "marginal." Delivery platform reliability and U.S. allies’ confidence in the U.S. nuclear umbrella were both rated "strong."

"Today, the United States is not developing any nuclear warheads even though other countries are doing so," the report notes. The consequent nonreplacement of nuclear weaponry "increases the risk of failure due to aging components."

No new weapon designs means that new military requirements are not met — most glaringly "the need to destroy deeply buried hardened targets" such as some of the nuclear facilities spread in different regions of Iran.

The advanced age of nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms are "causing doubts about whether their mission can be accomplished successfully before the forces are modernized."

But perhaps most alarming, the capacity for production of plutonium pits, a main U.S. nuclear weapon component, currently stands at only 20 a year. "Russia, the closest U.S. competitor and potential adversary, can produce around 2,000 pits a year," the Heritage Index notes.

Overall, the Heritage Foundation analysts peg America’s military posture as "marginal."

The combined weaknesses cataloged in the new report have "resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests."

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Only 32 percent of the active Army is ready for combat and only seven classes of the U.S. Navy’s 18 classes of ships are currently in production, according to some of the chilling conclusions of the first annual Heritage Foundation Index of U.S. Military Strength, released Tuesday.
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Tuesday, 24 Feb 2015 08:46 PM
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