In its latest 564 page 2022 Index of U.S. MilitaryStrength published Wednesday, The Washington D.C.-based Heritage Foundation labeled both the Air Force and the fledgling Space Force as “weak” among all the military services.
The think tank annually ranks the U.S. armed services in terms of their capacity, capability and readiness, producing a scorecard for each military branch.
According to Heritage, the Air Force earned a “marginal” score for its capacity and capability and a “weak” score for readiness. Its overall ranking was “weak.”
Referring to the capacity to fight in two major regional contingency operations (or conflicts), the report assessed that the Air Force has “86 percent of the capacity required. However, the disposition of those assets limits the ability of the service to deploy them rapidly to a crisis region.”
The report noted the age of many aircraft and slow pace of modernization as key issues. It also criticized the Air Force decision to purchase the fourth generation F-15EX, stating, “The Air Force is using precious acquisition dollars to buy an aircraft that, by all indicators, will have very limited utility in a conflict with a peer competitor.”
Explaining its overall score for the Air Force, the report said: “there is little doubt the Air Force would struggle in war with a peer competitor.”
Meanwhile the fledgling Space Force created by President Trump in 2019 also earned “weak” scores across its capacity, capability and readiness assessments. Despite strong efforts to transfer space assets, and personnel from the Air Force to the newly formed Space Force, it still isn’t enough.
“There is little evidence that the USSF has improved its readiness to provide nearly real-time support to the operational and tactical levels or that it is ready in any way to execute defensive and offensive counterspace operations to the degree envisioned by Congress when it formed the Space Force.”
The Navy and Army fared only slightly better, receiving marginal to weak scores. Most significantly in rating the Navy “marginal to weak” is the Navy’s relatively small size. The report recommends a 400-ship Navy fleet, instead of the 297-ship fleet it now has, while its capability is considered to be trending towards “weak” because Russia and China are catching up technologically. It also faults the service’s “overwhelmed maintenance infrastructure” for its low readiness score.
The Army earned an overall “marginal” score, with a “weak” capacity, a “marginal” capability but a “very strong” readiness rating. Heritage assesses the Army should have at least 50 brigade combat teams (BCTs) to fight two major regional conflicts and still have a strategic reserve force, instead of its current 31 BCTs. It also dinged the Army on its notoriously slow effort to replace and modernize its tanks and light tactical vehicles.
The Marines earned the best overall score of the branches, with a “strong” score based on “strong” capability and readiness scores. However, its capacity score was “marginal” due to also being understrength. The Heritage Foundation assessed the Marine Corps should have at least 30 battalions to fulfill its warfighting capacity, rather than the current 24.
The foundation credits the maritime expeditionary service with “aggressively pursuing a host of new capabilities that will modernize the force over the next decade” and “an especially focused and aggressive commitment to ensuring that Marine Corps forces are ready for action.”
The latter accolades are likely due to General David H. Berger, the current Marine commandant’s, revolutionary transformation effort for the Corps focusing on distributed warfare and facing the China threat head on in the Pacific. AND