The Heritage Foundation this week released its annual report on the “Index of U.S. Military Strength,” which the conservative Washington think tank suggested to be a less-than-ideal time for today’s troops.
The report’s findings, which, in essence, rank end-strength against national security threats, paint a picture of an aging and understaffed military.
“The Active Component of the U.S. military is two-thirds the size it should be, operates equipment that is older than it should be, and is burdened by readiness levels that are more problematic than they should be,” the report reads. “To the extent that progress has been made, it has been at the expense of both capacity and modernization.”
To narrow scope and provide accuracy, the report focused specifically on hard power — namely, the military’s dominating influence on the world stage. Overall, the study was designed to illustrate whether or not the military in its capacity in 2024 would be able to defend the country and pursue its strategic goals.
The researchers ultimately settled on three criteria for measuring hard power: Capability, capacity, and readiness. The criteria were then analyzed through a lens of the U.S. military’s ability to sustain itself through two major, ongoing regional conflicts.
“As currently postured, the U.S. military is at significant risk of not being able to defend America’s vital national interests with assurance,” the report said.
The report’s rankings for each military branch and the force in total, meanwhile, spanned five levels: Very strong, strong, marginal, weak, and very weak.
Of the branches, the Marine Corps was found to be the sole service rated as “strong.” Army and Space Force were considered “marginal,” while the Navy and Air Force were rated as “weak” and “very weak,” respectively.
While the Marine Corps was considered to have the best outlook, data may be stilted due to the fact that, unlike the other branches, the service “is measured against a one-war requirement rather than the two-war requirement to which the other services are held,” the report said.
“The 2024 Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is at significant risk of being unable to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities,” the report noted. “The force would probably not be able to do more and is certainly ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous MRCs — a situation that is made more difficult by the generally weak condition of key military allies.”
As a result, the report rated the overall end-strength of U.S. forces as “weak.” The report also notes that things have gotten progressively worse over the last two-to-three years, in particular.
“This is the inevitable result of years of sustained use, underfunding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution, and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to U.S. interests have surged,” the report concluded.
Update: A previous version of this article reflected older branch rankings but has since been updated.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.