The problem with many official pronouncements that emanate from the E-Ring is credibility. Most of the denizens of that Ring are so ate-up with policy and partisanship, that even when they refrain from slanting their output to fit the party line, the knob-polishers and horse-holders who grovel ambitiously around the penumbrae of their campfires have slanted their inputs so as to please them.
In other words, one of the hardest things, when you’re Boss (or close to it), is getting the Regular Joes and Janes to tell you unvarnished truth, and not what they think you want to hear.
So that is some background to the word we got from a friend currently performing a period of penance in the Pentagon for his sins as a senior special operations officer. The word is that Pentagon planners are increasingly referring to outside documents to get a handle on what’s really happening in Defense. One document that came up is the Heritage Foudation’s frank and scathing 2016 Index of US Military Strength: Assessing America’s Ability to Provide for the Common Defense, available here. (Big .pdf). We’ve actually discussed this document before (or perhaps the 2015 version), but it’s worth looking at again.
The document focuses on the three regions where threats to vital US interests have arisen or can arise: Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It weighs US military power by yardsticks of capability, capacity, and readiness.
The conclusions are sobering:
…little has been done to arrest the decline in our nation’s physical ability to confront … challenges. (p.xiii).
America’s “hard power” has deteriorated still further over the past year, primarily as a result of inadequate funding that has led to a shrinking force that possesses aging equipment and modest levels of readiness for combat. (ibid).
America’s continuing decline in military hard power is thoroughly documented and quanti ed in this report. (p.1).
In aggregate, the United States’ military pos- ture is rated as “Marginal” and is trending toward “Weak.” (p. 12).
Essential maintenance continues to be 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. (ibid).
[USAF] “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. (p.13).
…our comparative military advantage is starting to wane, but even as American military power declines, the demands made on the military are increasing. (p.46).
The decline in the size of the active-duty force caused by reduced budgets has sparked tension among the Active, Guard, and Reserve components over their respective missions and corresponding resources. (p.61).
Many NATO Countries spend less on defense than the New York Police Department. (p.81).
One of the key weaknesses and most mismanaged areas of defense over the last two administrations has been the nuclear balance. If it continues to deteriorate, it will probably be impossible to prevent former US allies and nuclear dependents from going their own way with their own independent deterrents.
The reasons we’ve had two administrations’ worth of nuclear decline are varied, but certainly the largest factors are the last administration’s focus on counter-goatherd operations, on the one hand, and the present administration’s quixotic pursuit of unilateral nuclear deterrent and “peace” at any price. You could say that the former results from short-term thinking and lack of a horizon focus, and the latter results from sheer childish naivety.
The same naivety that thinks that our nukes are destabilizing tends to be comorbid with belief in other kinds of magical thinking, like Gun Free Zones. It’s not a partisan political problem, this magical cognitive fuzz: does anyone remember the No Child Left Behind Act, which solemnly explained how, over time, all children would be elevated to be Above Average?
Say what you will about education, but basic numeracy seems absent inside the Beltway and along the Acela Corridor.
One of the most disturbing parts of the document is the appendix that lists major systems and their scheduled replacements — if any. For example, the Navy has no replacements in mind for its cruisers, just a low-low mix of destroyers and defenseless, offenseless, “presence” LCSes. The submarine force is subject to massive cuts by attrition. In every defense regime, manpower, units and both quantities and kinds of forces are being cut without respect to requirements.
Eliminating variety of forces is the kind of thing that looks good to managerial types who want to apply MBA quantitative figuring to readiness. The problem is that this simplifies the enemy’s task in developing countermeasures for your forces. You not only need a certain level of capability, you need enough variety in your capability to be unpredictable to the enemy. This is very hard to get across to a zero-time-under-rucksack “Defense Intellectual” with a green eyeshade, who has risen to sit in the Aeron chair of command critic.
The next edition is due sometime next month, November 2016, and the word inside the Ring is that it will describe an even bleaker situation.