The Economic Spoils of War

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The Economic Spoils of War

After eight years of ambivalent commitment to national security and global leadership, the United States is poised to reassert its position as the world’s lone superpower. 

Where do we stand today? 

The 2016 Index of Military Strength published by the Heritage Foundation is probably the most thorough outside assessment of U.S. defense capabilities.  It divides the $600 billion-a-year enterprise into five segments:  Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Nuclear.  Despite near-record spending levels, Heritage assesses the Army as “weak” and the other four segments as “marginal.”  This is not some sort of “shoot-from-the-hip” conclusion; it is backed by up to 335 pages of analysis by some of the top people in their fields.1


Let’s consider each part of the assessment:

First, the Army is “weak.”  The Army’s score dropped from “marginal” in 2015 to “weak” in 2016, primarily due to a drop in capacity, as the Army has fewer brigades ready for deployment abroad.  The Army’s capability and readiness scores remained static as the service continued to struggle with recouping readiness levels after years of budget cuts.

Second, the Navy is “marginal.”  The Navy readiness score dropped from “strong” to “marginal” due to shortfalls in the fleet’s surge capacity requirements.  Deferred maintenance has kept ships at sea, but this is beginning to affect the Navy’s ability to deploy.  With scores of “weak” in capability (due largely to old platforms and troubled modernization programs) and “marginal” in capacity, the Navy is currently just able to meet operational requirements.  Moving forward, the fleet will be further strained to meet operational demands, especially as Reagan-era platforms increasingly near the end of their service lives.

Third, the Air Force is “marginal.”  In 2015, the Air Force flew sorties in support of many named operations, resulting in a higher than anticipated operational tempo.  The United States Air Force scored “very strong” in capacity.  Capability scored as “marginal,” remaining static since last year’s assessment, while “readiness” dropped from “strong” to “marginal.”  Although difficult to categorize, the readiness decline is best attributed to reports that under half of the service’s combat air forces meet full-spectrum readiness requirements...

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