ON-Lion Letter

"The United States maintains a military force primarily to protect the homeland from attack and to protect its interests abroad," begins the new 2015 Index of U.S. Military Strength, from The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.  "There are secondary uses, such as to assist civil authorities in times of disaster or to deter opponents from threatening America’s interests, but this force’s primary purpose is to make it possible for the U.S. to physically impose its will on an enemy when necessary.

"Given the importance of this constitutional responsibility, one might reasonably assume that the government uses some standardized, consistent reference to understand the state of security affairs and to assess the evolving status of threats to U.S. interests, the environment within which the U.S. military would operate to protect those interests, and the condition of the U.S. military itself," continues the report, edited by Dakota L. Wood.  "Regrettably, it does not.  Washington is awash in a flood of papers offering opinions on these matters, but they lack coherence, consistency, repeatability, and objectivity."

Wood is Heritage's senior research fellow for defense programs.  The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee substantially supports Heritage projects.

"Without a standardized, consistent reference, our national leadership cannot effectively measure our current military posture or understand strategic risk relative to our nation's ability to defend its vital national interests," the report goes on.  "And, without such a reference, the American public cannot know whether our security posture is improving or worsening from year to year.

"The Heritage Foundation's Index of U.S. Military Strength seeks to fill this void with an annual assessment of the state of America's 'hard power' and its related strategic context.  The inaugural 2015 edition establishes a baseline assessment on which future annual editions will build, with each issue assessing the state of affairs for its respective year and measuring how things have changed from the previous year.

"In aggregate, the United States' military posture is rated as 'Marginal,'" according to the report.

"Overall, the Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is adequate to meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities.  Clearly, this is what the military is doing now and has done for the past two decades, but it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two, near-simultaneous major regional contingencies.  The consistent decline in funding and the consequent shrinking of the force are putting it under significant pressure.  Essential maintenance is being deferred; fewer units (mostly the Navy's platforms and the Special Operations Forces community) are being cycled through operational deployments more often and for longer periods; and old equipment is being extended while programmed replacements are problematic. 

"The cumulative effect of such factors has 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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