US military is ‘weak,’ in danger of not being able to defend national interests

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For the second consecutive year, a study has ranked the U.S. military as “weak” and warned that a lack of action could leave the armed forces incapable of defending vital American interests.

“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,” reads the conclusion of the Heritage Foundation’s 10th annual Index of Military Strength, which was released Wednesday.

The report paints a dire picture of the state of the U.S. military, with its current posture being rated at “weak” by the index for the second consecutive year, calling into question America’s ability to meet security obligations and protect vital national interests around the globe.

The 664-page report addresses a wide range of issues, finding that almost no branch of the U.S. military is ready to face a major conflict. Those issues are most pronounced in the Air Force, which the index rated as “very weak” in 2023.


The report rates each branch of service on its strength in capacity, capability and readiness, rating the branch power as either very weak, weak, marginal, strong or very strong. The Air Force rated as marginal in both capacity and capability while also rating weak for readiness. Overall, the report found that Air Force power currently rates as very weak, the lowest rating possible.

The Air Force was rated “very weak,” according to the Heritage Foundation Index. (Heritage Foundation)

But the issues weren’t just contained to the Air Force, with the Navy also coming in for ratings of very weak in capacity, marginal in capability and weak in readiness. That combined for an overall rating of weak, according to the index.

“For 10 years this index has monitored the U.S. Navy’s slow decline while China’s Navy has modernized and grown at a fast pace,” Robert Greenway, the director of the Allison Center for National Security at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. “Meanwhile, the Navy has had too little shipyard capacity to keep its fleet maintained, too few ships to pace the threats, and misguided leadership that has instigated a recruitment crisis. Advanced capabilities alone will not offset this, and action is needed to reverse the downward trends.”

Navy power chart

The Navy’s current power was rated as “weak,” according to the Heritage Foundation. (Heritage Foundation)

The Army didn’t trend a lot better, the report found, coming in with weak capacity, marginal capability and very strong readiness, resulting in an overall rating of marginal, according to the index.

While the rating may seem better than the Air Force and Navy, problems loom on the horizon for the Army, including a shrinking force that Greenway called “unsustainable” in the long run.

U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade prepare to breach an obstacle at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, March 6, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan Parr)

Army paratroopers assigned to the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade, prepare to breach an obstacle at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, on March 6, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan Parr)

In just two years, the active-duty Army has shrunk from 485,000 to only 452,000 troops,” Greenway said. “This directly impacts both readiness and effectiveness as the Army is unable to fully man its formations. The recruitment shortfalls caused the Army to cut ‘end strength’ by 12,000 in [fiscal] 2023. This is unsustainable.”

Army power index chart

The Army’s power was rated as “marginal,” according to the Heritage Foundation. (Heritage Foundation)


The U.S. military’s newest branch, the Space Force, had the same overall rating as the Army, coming in at marginal in all three categories and overall. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps recorded the only positive overall score in the index, rating as weak in capacity but strong in both capability and readiness, which resulted in an overall rating of strong.

marines power index chart

The Marine Corps power was rated as “strong,” according to the Heritage Foundation. (Heritage Foundation)

A large chunk of the issue can be blamed on investment in the military, according to Heritage Foundation analyst for defense budgeting Wilson Beaver, who told Fox News Digital that U.S. spending on defense has continued to decline for “decades.”

“As a percentage of GDP, defense spending has been in decline for decades. This while the military is being tasked by the president and the Congress to do just as much as it did when it was being funded at 6 to 10% of GDP,” Beaver said.

Making matters worse is a recruiting crisis that has plagued the military in recent years, something Beaver argues has gone unaddressed by the current administration.

“The present recruiting crisis resulted in a shortfall of 41,000 in 2023 and is the worst in our nation’s history,” Beaver said. “If left unaddressed, it threatens the ability of the all-volunteer force to protect us. Rather than emphasizing merit and performance, President Biden and the senior leaders he has appointed choose to focus on the race and gender of candidates, attempting to use the military to promote their ideology.”

U.S. Marines

The Marine Corps recorded a positive overall score in the Heritage Foundation’s 10th annual Index of Military Strength. (U.S. Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Blake Gonter)

A White House National Security Council spokesperson told Fox News Digital that the U.S. has “has the most powerful military in the world” and that “President Biden and his Administration are committed to ensuring the U.S. military remains capable of prevailing against any adversary.”

“President Biden and his administration are supporting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Guardsmen, Marines, and Guardians in a multitude of ways: increasing military pay for a second year in a row, pursuing new economic opportunities for military families, expanding and modernizing the U.S. defense industrial base, and ensuring that U.S. forces have the capabilities they need to fight and win wars,” the spokesperson said. “The strongest, most professional, and most capable fighting force in the world requires support across the entirety of the U.S. Government. We again urge Congress to act quickly on the President’s supplemental funding request that will advance our national security and directly support and strengthen our military.”

When it comes to recruiting, the spokesperson added that the Defense Department is “taking several steps to meet Americans where they are and talk about the value of service. They are best positioned to talk about their ongoing efforts.”


But the problem is not unique to just one administration, according to Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Dakota Wood, who told Fox News Digital the trend of a weakened U.S. military has been ongoing for years.

“Our people are great, but they are poorly served with old equipment, too little of it, and dangerously low levels of training … all of which are essential to protecting our country, the very reason [we] call upon them to serve,” Wood said. “And this isn’t a recent phenomenon; it is the result of years of bad defense policies, badly managed programs, and troubled funding across many years and a series of administrations. If our government is truly serious about the security of our country and in serving America in ways no one else can, it must get its act together in adequately funding defense, ensuring those tax dollars are wisely spent, and when it deploys our military, it is given missions that are achievable and are squarely in America’s interests.”

Air Force graduates

Air Force trainees are shown at graduation. (U.S. Air Force)

Those problems have extended to U.S. nuclear power, the report notes, which came in with an overall rating of marginal thanks to low marks in multiple categories.

“Our nuclear arsenal is rotting in place, and we are not moving with a sense of urgency to replace/modernize it,” Robert Peters, a research fellow for nuclear deterrence and missile defense at Heritage’s Allison Center for National Security, told Fox News Digital.

US nuclear power index chart

U.S. military nuclear power was rated as “marginal,” according to the Heritage Foundation. (Heritage Foundation)

The military’s weak rating comes at possibly the worst time in recent memory, with the U.S. facing multiple crises across the globe, including Russia’s continued war against Ukraine, the fight against global terrorism, and increasingly hostile postures by Iran, North Korea and China.

According to the report, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and non-state actors such as terrorist organizations all pose a high threat to vital U.S. interests. The report rates China and Iran as aggressive threats, and Russia comes in at the highest rank of hostile. Meanwhile, both Russia and China are assessed as having “formidable” capabilities.


That threat is especially true when it comes to China’s nuclear power, Peters said, telling Fox News Digital that the country is the “fastest growing nuclear power on the planet.”

US interests threats chart

China and Russia both represent “formidable” threats to U.S. interests, according to the Heritage Foundation. (Heritage Foundation)

“We are now on year 14 of the U.S. nuclear modernization program. In that time we have built zero nuclear weapons,” Peters said. “According to the Government Accountability Office, we won’t be able to produce plutonium pits en masse before 2030. The newest nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal is 30 years old — some running on vacuum tubes and floppy disks.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jeff M. Smith, the director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, who told Fox News Digital that China is the top threat to American interests.

Chinese military

New recruits of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army attend a send-off ceremony in Ganzhou on March 16, 2023. (China Daily via Reuters )

“China presents the United States with its most comprehensive and daunting national security challenge … [Beijing] is challenging the U.S. and its allies at sea, in the air and in cyberspace,” Smith said.

The new Heritage report, meanwhile, shows the U.S. may not be ready to meet that challenge.


“Unfortunately, the index also makes it clear that our military is woefully unprepared to tackle the growing threat from China and win the new Cold War. Major changes are needed, and they are needed now,” Smith said.

Reached for comment by Fox News Digital, a Pentagon spokesperson argued that the “U.S. military is the strongest fighting force the world has ever known.”

“We have not reviewed the report and do not have a comment to provide on the index,” the spokesperson said. “Every day around the globe, the men and women of our Armed Forces safeguard vital U.S. national interests by backstopping diplomacy, confronting aggression, deterring conflict, projecting strength, and protecting the American people.”

Meanwhile, an administration official took aim at the Heritage Foundation, arguing that the organization was at least partly responsible for holding up officer promotions amid multiple unfolding crises. 

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