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New Heritage Foundation Study Ranks U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Strength as ‘Marginal’

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) prepare for a live-fire exercise on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Feb. 10, 2015. US Navy

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) prepare for a live-fire exercise on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on Feb. 10, 2015. US Navy

A newly created “Index of Military Strength” rates the Navy and Marine Corps as “marginal” in being able two fight two major regional conflicts almost simultaneously while having sufficient reserves to carry out other missions.

With the exception of the Air Force, the ranking of “marginal” was the Heritage Foundation’s assessment of the nation’s individual military services and nuclear force. The Air Force was rated “strong” in its ability to meet the criteria.

Dakota Wood, senior research fellow at Heritage, said Tuesday the Washington think-tank intends to update the index annually as it does with others that it produces. “Next year’s will be more current” in its ratings because it will be published in the fall rather than a full quarter later. The index “didn’t get into future predictions” of military strength and will not in the future.

The broad-ranging index also provided ratings for different regions — Middle East, Europe and Asia — and potential and existing challenges in each.

Steven Bucci, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy and National Security at Heritage, said that in creating the index the foundation thought of adding a section on homeland defense but backed away because in most instances the military is in a supporting role in that realm.

“We [the United States] prefer to play away games” in assessing national security needs, he said. That allowed the writers to focus on the Department of Defense in creating the index.

In its assessment, Heritage wrote the Navy is “strong in readiness but at a cost to future capability” and “is just able to meet requirements.” To meet the criteria set for the “strong” rating, the Navy would have 346 surface ships and 624 strike aircraft. The Navy now has 274 ships in the Fleet.

On the Marine Corps, Heritage wrote its “strongest suit was readiness” but it is “hampered by old equipment, troubled replacement of its key ground vehicles and a shrinking force.” To meet the criteria for the “strong” rating, the Marine Corps would have 36 battalions from the current strength of 21.

In rating the nation’s overall military strength, Heritage wrote that it was “adequate to meeting the demands of a single major conflict” while also continuing “various presence and engagement activities.” The writers noted that military strength has been affected by declines in military spending and shrinking of end strength, most noticeably since 2011.

In his remarks following the release of the index, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said that in Navy leaders’ own words a force of 260 ships would mean “we became a regional power.”

Forbes specifically mentioned areas like the Strait of Hormuz and the Asia-Pacific region, noting that 85 percent of the world’s commerce moves on water and “the only navy in the world” protecting underwater cabling that moves data from continent to continent (the U.S. Navy) requires that the United States remain a global power.

“You won’t be able to buy back,” he said, “what we’ve lost” in defense spending cuts. Forbes put the cuts at $780 billion since the Budget Control Act was passed, even without sequestration. He said that in talks with liberals and conservatives he stresses “defense won’t be cheaper” by delaying maintenance and modernization.

The Heritage index writers noted the Navy and special operating forces “cycled [equipment] through operations more often and for longer periods of time, and old equipment is being extended while proposed replacements are problematic.”

Wood summed up Heritage’s findings this way: The “allies are under-investing” in maintaining military strength; the United States’ “enemies are making smart investments”; and the American “military is aging and shrinking in size.”

  • Nuno Saldanha

    Given the current world scenario, those are actually bad news. Not just for the US, naturally, but for the entire democratic world. If the situation does not change in short/ medium term, the future of our children, and as we know it, is irrevocably at risk.

    • Jack Lawrence

      The world dies not then in Heritage.

  • Jim

    A newly created “Index of Military Strength” rates the Navy and Marine Corps as “marginal” in being able two fight two major regional conflicts almost simultaneously while having sufficient reserves to carry out other missions.

    Too, to, two, or 2

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Consider the source: Heritage also states that climate change is an evil conspiracy and has a guy on staff who posts skeevy articles on Stormfront. The neocons on staff would just love to drag us into another unending work.

    By the way, who promoted the defense budget cuts in the interest of austerity budgeting? Hint: they now control both houses on Congress and still love the sequester and shutting down the government in the interest of scoring irrelevant political points.

    • On Dre

      Whao what?!?!! Who is posting articles on Stormfront?

      • Julieann Wozniak

        The place has definitely gone downhill since Jim DeMint took over. In 2013, the Foubdation hired a guy named Jason Richwine to author a report on the cost of changes to immigration policy; it turned out to be a vile treatise on eugenics, which stated the genetic superiority of Caucasians over all other ethnicities. Don’t know about you, but my uncle gave up his life fighting against Germans who slaughtered millions promoting the same brand of evil. A subsequent Google search, which Heritage’s HR should have done, revealed Mr. Richwine’s web connections to white supremacists. You used to be able to trust the factual nature of Heritage’s reportage, but now you have to take it with a grain of salt.

        • old guy

          Very interesting. THANKS.

        • Ctrot

          You have your dates confused, or you’re just hoping no one notices. The Richwine immigration study debacle predated DeMint. DeMint began his stint as the head of Heritage on April 4, 2013 and Richwine resigned on May 10, 2013.

          • Julieann Wozniak

            Bad management is bad management. And the study still informs the view of immigrants held by some fringe politicians.

          • Ctrot

            Yes, but you specifically stated that Heritage had “gone downhill” since DeMint took over and then used Richwine as evidence of your claim. Just admit you screwed up, it will look less embarrassing than trying to cover up your screw up.

          • Julieann Wozniak

            Given that the flawed report is still being utilized, I admit no such thing, other than I am not perfect, and neither are you.

          • Ctrot

            You did screw up, you blamed DeMint for Richwine when DeMint was’t yet at Heritage when Richwine was hired. Then you double down by refusing to admit your error. And the study that Heritage published was NOT a treatise on eugenics nor did it make ANY claims of Caucasian superiority. Your entire premise is riddle with errors.

          • Julieann Wozniak


  • Jack Lawrence

    Heritage always has an axe to grind. It declares the Navy a regional force then goes on to list worldwide commitments the Navy is meeting. This is a political article, not a professional assessment.

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  • Cecil

    One has to keep the political bias of Heritage firmly in mind when reading this article.

  • TDog

    The Heritage Foundation rates the USMC as “marginal”, yet probably rates the PLA as “exceptional” and the Russian military as “super awesome.”

    Something is really, really wrong here.

  • James Bowen

    I think Heritage was too kind in giving this rating.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Also keep in mind that Heritage is shilling for a bigger Defense Budget. The Congressional, Military, Industrial Complex will never give up on perpetuating America into continuous needless wars, all to keep politicians in power, military empires competing for each other’s mission/$$$/personnel, & defense contractors from chasing that lucrative U.S. tax payer $$$, usually to the tune of billions. We will probably NOT see any improvements until after 2016, if then, but here are some examples of what needs to happen: 1. Streamline the military by functional areas. 2. ONE Navy. 3. ONE Conventional ground force. 4. ONE Fixed-wing Air Force. 5. ONE Special Operations Force, w/the USMC under them as America’s Amphibious Special Operations Force, etc.


    Since simultaneously fighting two major regional conflicts is no longer a force requirement, why exactly does this make any difference. And then of course, what counts as two regional conflicts? Or reserves for other missions? And what exactly are these other missions? Or what counts as Marginal or Strong and why? Without any of that, the ranking doesn’t mean squat.

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  • old guy

    The basic fault with the whole two “major regional conflicts” is that the scenarios have changed, but the thinking has not. Until we recognize the change to fighting indigenous, non-governmental terrorist threat forces, all of this is hogwash.

  • Crap…We have a professional naval and marine force second to none. More Big carriers than the world combined, largest amphib force in the world even if they are all combined, and a battle tested Marine Corps and Navy (surface, submarine, and air). It should improve in 2016…and also if we star to refocus our doctrine on more than an insurgency war. All the author’s jobs, etc were for mouth organs for defense contractors, defense publications, and the “Navy Times”. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • honcho13

    Unfortunately, Mr Grady is living in the past! Not once does he mention in his article that our partners in other Navies around the world have stepped-up with a significant increase in strength and presence in the Middle East and other areas around the world. And, many other navies have modernized and adapted their “home waters” presence with new and more capable ships, which thereby decreases the need for a U.S. presence. He (and the Heritage Foundation) rant on the same old, tired mantra that the U.S. needs “346 surface ships and 624 strike aircraft”! Please, Mr. Grady! Whose gonna build your “dream fleet”? Whose gonna man your “pie-in-the-sky” Navy! You need to get a grip on reality! Yeah, I think all of us (especially us “lifers”) would like to see a bigger and more capable Navy. But, based-on the current spending predilections of our Congress, it ain’t gonna happen! Sorry! MMCS(SW), USN (ret)