The 2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength carries a startling message: America is not ready to fight two regional wars at once. Conservatives believe in Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength,” meaning that our lack of readiness makes us increasingly vulnerable to war. Last week Heritage’s President, Kay Coles James, had some powerful words to say about our vulnerability.

“The bottom line,” President James said, “is that our current military is too small, insufficiently equipped and inadequately trained to do the job.” The Index found that much of our equipment is outdated, our forces stretched thin, and that years of underfunding the armed forces is putting not only our military at an unnecessary risk, but America herself.

President James also detailed how every branch of our military is suffering from being over utilized and underfunded in recent years, and concluded that it’s immoral to put America’s best at risk without giving them the tools to prevail. On the contrary, “America’s sons and daughters deserve better.”

The Heritage Foundation, among its many beliefs, holds truth above all. Without your support, we couldn’t assemble the brightest minds to assess our nation’s strengths and weaknesses, and we wouldn’t be in the position to change things for the better. Thank you for letting us lend our voices in support of our military to provide the advocacy they so deserve.

Read President James’ op-ed at Fox News >>

With our high deficits and spending, how do you think we should approach America’s defense needs?

Comments (52)

William D. Bacon Jr. - October 26, 2018

With our dangerous and out-of-control spending, we are putting a significant and avoidable burden on our future. Hard to believe that there are not effective ways to trim our military spending without endangering our beloved country. Why not close some of the many military bases we have in other countries? It can be done!

Charles F Morton - October 26, 2018

Bring our close to 100,000 troops home from South Korea, Germany, Japan to cut our defense costs.

tomJwright - October 26, 2018

stop the Port Barrel spending and use it for building a strong Military force. Stop spending on those who want to tear down the USA and use those funds to help the USA grow strong!

Peter M Probasco - October 26, 2018

I endorse all efforts increase the size of our Military & insure all units are fully trained & fully equipped.

Paul W - October 26, 2018

How? Cut the wasteful spending. There are agencies that should be combined, downsized or flat out eliminated. Budget allocation needs to be heavily scrutinized and evaluated. It’s time for drastic changes in where OUR money goes.

DR DWIGHT SANDERS SE - October 26, 2018

as a vet, I am all in for MY help!

Michele Bradtmueller - October 26, 2018

I have 1 active, 2 veteran sons. One was a Marine MTC mechanic …complained of no repair or sub-standard or used parts available. Rather than first purchasing new, we should focus on high quality parts inventories. One is a Navy corpsman who comments on unprofessional, inept administration of our country’s VA system. I believe our President has begun the fix here but veterans are still facing long wait times for care. That fix can’t come soon enough. 3rd son was in intelligence. I have zip comments from him, as it should be. So all in all, our POTUS just needs internal support to win the necessary allotments AND CUTS to our budget to give our men and women in the military, both active and inactive, the tools to do the job they signed up for.

Lisa - October 26, 2018

Our military has got to be brought up to strength with all going on in the world. Our last 2 presidents have all but stripped us of any security.

Eric Unks - October 26, 2018

We definitely need to cut and/or eliminate spending in several areas which are not the responsibility of the federal government, but both our military and our infrastructure need to be fully funded!

Douglas Widell - October 26, 2018

As a pilot in the Air Force in the 70’s I averaged 450 flight hours per month. Pilots today are lucky to get half that much flying time. A pilot needs to fly to be safe and to be proficient in their mission. Also, the recent hurricane hit Tyndall AFB in Panama City, FL. Nineteen F-22s could not be repaired enough to be flyable due to a shortage of key parts and were damaged in the storm. In the old days they would have all been flown out to a safe base well in advance of the storm. The military needs funds to maintain pilot proficiency and to insure they’re flying safe aircraft.

robert allison - October 26, 2018

get a 60 pulse senate and control of the house and turn Mr. Donald Trump loose, I believe in hem completely.

Kyle DeLoach - October 26, 2018

Eliminate the Dept. of Education. Total review of military procurement, from concept to rework facilities. Examine all Federal Departments for how they spend tax dollars. Removal or reduction of federal entitlement programs. Continue to consolidate and/close military bases around the world.

Sue Noble - October 26, 2018

We should be spending more on our Military. I am very concerned about our borders and the safety of the U.S. The Democrats are more concerned about getting votes than the safety of our Borders.

Mary Westcott - October 26, 2018

1)The proposed 5% cut in bureaucracy size and cost is just a beginning. Government salaries and benefits need to be in line with private sector jobs. 2) All Federal Benefits for able bodied individuals should have work requirements. 3) Benefits must be limited to US citizens. 4) Reduce number of Federal Assistance Programs so there is less overlap and less incentive for not working. 5) New initiatives needed for vocational education so we have skilled workers. 6) Term limits for the President (one 6 yr term) and for senators (two 6 year terms) and representatives (four 2 year terms) so that the focus is on serving rather than being re-elected. Much work needs to be done to find common ground for better laws, regulations, and fiscal policies. 7)Better tort laws and replacing the ACA could have a huge savings in medical costs. Addressing these challenges should free resources for the military.

Robert C Meier - October 26, 2018

Spend what is necessary for defense Cut expenditures on welfare programs and education. I was a professor for over 35 years at UW and WWU in Washington state. University professors are underworked and over-paid. K-12 teachers work short days and get 2 months off in summer, as well. Pay levels are outrageous for part-time work.

Joseph C. Mitcho - October 26, 2018

Review all Foreign Aid and, in cases where it is not serving its purpose or helping the people, reduce or eliminate it. In some countries, corrupt leaders get rich and the people languish in poor conditions. Then, use the money to build up the military. My guess is that this would reduce spending at the same time.
I’m also for eliminating the Department of Education because, education is the responsibility of the states. Also, the Department of Energy was created, in the 1970s, to reduce or eliminate our dependence of foreign oil. And, we all know that didn’t work. Only now, we are less dependent on foreign oil, as the result of industry technology advances in production.

Trudy Slater - October 26, 2018

Support our military to do their increasingly important jobs. Stop wasting funds on illegals invading our country. Fund our border wall, and increase numbers of the brave Customs and Border Patrol and ICE agents!

Andree Nippe - October 26, 2018

First of all, find the millions that the Pentagon ‘lost’! This is unacceptable!
With that money the military forces can be equipped. and should be, with ALL military properly equipped! Also, they should receive compensation, especially those fighting, commensurate with each job! Also, do NOT give a penny to the Pentagon, which is a corrupt agency of the govt.!

Major John Bowers - October 26, 2018

Don’t worry about the Marines. We have always done “more with less.” We do need money to keep the planes flying and the trucks rolling, but whatever the mission we will accomplish it.
I retired in ’92, but the Corps has not changed, in fact it is immensely better now than in the early 70’s when we had almost 50% high school dropouts.
Semper Fidelis.

Dee Hodges - October 26, 2018

I agree with Paul W. An Institute at NIH that grants money for all kinds of frivolous projects should be closed down. Likewise, programs in other Departments. The FDA harms the sick by failing to approve drugs in a reasonable time. 17 years to approve drugs?? The welfare system needs huge reform. Why pay single women to have babies?

William Coates - October 26, 2018

Two regional wars? We don’t have enough troops to engage significantly in two. But current weapons, if we have enough in stock, can take out a lot of troops.
More likely would be cyberattacks to disable our financial or electrical networks, taking down the dollar and infrastructure. That would be low-cost, low-risk and hard to determine the source.

John C. - October 26, 2018

Tell congress they must trim all budgets except military spending by 10%. Apply half of that amount toward the debt and the balance to the military. Additionally close U S military bases in non critical countries and countries that don’t appreciate our presents. Also save but using common sense to cut costs. Make English our national lanuage, close the Dept of Education and stop all aide to countries that support terrorists.

Geminiano Bulos - October 26, 2018

I am a monthly contributor. I like to use my investment on Heritage foundation to send my urgent message to President Trump.
My beloved President, please order your Secretary of Defense to send the Military..not the Soldiers, but the Army “Quartermaster Corps to meet the Caravan and save them. General “mad dog” Mattis will know what to do. These people are not invaders they are people fleeing their country which have been invaded by corrupt officials, drug lords and poverty. Please get this message to the propert authority or I will consider my monthly contribution as a waste.

E. Norheim - October 26, 2018

Reality is the demand of improving Military motivation and upgrading design and equipment to fulfill the purpose.

Pete Zimmerman - October 26, 2018

I am assuming you have seen the following WSJ article, I found it to be very troubling in terms of our current state militarily. This needs to be addressed. Federal budget wise, at some point Congress needs to deal with all the entitlement statutory spending that represents such a high percentage of our federal budget. While I recognize the importance of helping to provide for those in our society who are legitimately unable to provide for themselves, the most important responsibility of the federal government is to provide for the security of its citizens. And we are falling behind in this regard:

Defining Defense Down
Across the spectrum of military technologies, the U.S. is losing its edge as competitors gain ground.

By Mark Helprin
Oct. 11, 2018 7:02 p.m. ET

While America indulges in an asylum-worthy, self-destructive political struggle, largely unheralded changes are quietly shaping its destiny. Rapid advances in military technology, and the shifting correlation of forces among the U.S., China, and Russia, do not augur well. Our military deficiencies remain largely unaddressed, but rather than seeking remedy we are adjusting doctrine to accommodate them. This, the martial equivalent of Pat Moynihan’s “defining deviancy down,” is potentially as dangerous as the weakness it is intended to compensate.
Summarizing the deficiencies hardly does them justice. In the nuclear realm: China is now a major, destabilizing power that, unlike Russia and the U.S., is subject neither to numerical nor qualitative limitations, nor to inspections of its uniquely opaque nuclear infrastructure. And yet there is no effort to bring it into an arms-control regime. American nuclear modernization—rather, renovation—fails to match, among other things, the relatively invulnerable mobile missiles possessed by Russia, China and even North Korea, as U.S. land-based missiles remain at risk. Starved in the cradle, America’s ballistic-missile defenses cannot fulfill their primary purpose of deterring a first strike by protecting the portion of retaliatory capacity confined to fixed silos. In response to a Russian underwater nuclear “missile” putting America’s 10 great port cities in the path of destruction, the U.S. has done . . . nothing. And the military persists in packing the safest part of the nuclear deterrent in fewer and fewer submarines—14 as opposed to 41 four decades ago. All the above serve to institutionalize nuclear instability, as do deficiencies in conventional weapons.

China and Russia variously are ahead in quantum communications, antisatellite weapons, directed energy, and hypersonics. Whereas the U.S. is entirely dependent upon electronics and satellites, the American military cannot jam quantum communications, protect its satellite net, or defend against hypersonics. The Navy’s already diminished fleet may soon be vulnerable to missiles flying so fast that the only way to stop them is with directed-energy weapons that even the latest class of ships has neither the electrical capacity to support nor the hull size for retrofitting.

This, combined with America’s failure to build its own fortified islands in the South China Sea and line their shores with a gauntlet of antishipping missiles, will amount to the de facto surrender of international waters to a covetous competitor. The Senate voted in 2009 to terminate the F-22, the world’s premier fighter plane, at a quarter of the originally requested buy. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Four Thirties Strategy aims to stand up 30 air squadrons, 30 ships, and 30 battalions in 30 days: that is, 25 days after Russia has swallowed the Baltic republics and morsels of Poland.

If the U.S. cedes international waters, watches as parts of Europe fall away (as in Crimea and the Donbas), deploys a defenseless fleet, and by default opens vulnerabilities in its nuclear deterrent, the international system will shatter as allies defect to rivals for whom American capitulationists will arise to do the rivals’ bidding and adopt their principles. We have seen the dawn of such things in the Iran deal, “strategic patience,” apology tours and fundamental transformation.

Have Americans the wit to prevent this? So far, not. Despite recent, welcome increases in defense spending, it isn’t merely a question of money but of its proper allocation, of strategic clarity and of political will. According to Rep. Adam Smith (D., Wash.), “We are not in a position to have the defense budget that a lot of people envision when they start spelling out these nightmare scenarios.” That is, should Democrats take the House, the blinders will tighten.

But that is not all. The unremediated military decline in relation to potential enemies is the cause of a dangerous alteration in doctrine, which in itself is a form of early, if unconscious, appeasement. The new doctrine is expressed by Gen. John Raymond, chief of Air Force Space Command, who stated in April that the U.S. will respond to an attack on its assets in space “at a time, place, manner, and domain of our choosing.” He called this “a huge change in our overall strategy,” and it is. Former Defense Secretary William Perry protests low-yield nuclear weapons because “the president might feel less restrained . . . in a crisis.” And a former operations planner at U.S. Cyber Command endorses “the right to respond to cyber attacks with conventional means.”

These are admissions that the U.S. cannot proportionally and equally defend itself in space, cyber, and response to tactical nuclear weapons except through the threat of escalation and intrusion into other domains. At the beginning of the nuclear age, American withdrawal of conventional forces in Europe led to reliance on strategic nuclear weapons as a response to Soviet invasion. As the Soviets acquired their own nuclear arsenal, doctrine matured and it became obvious that a flexible response, restricted as much as possible to matching methods and means of the challenge, was necessary to avoid disastrous escalation.
As Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for research and engineering, succinctly warns, if the U.S. fails to shape up in regard to, for example, defense against hypersonics alone, China and Russia will “hold at risk our carrier battle groups . . . our entire surface fleet . . . our forward deployed forces and land-based forces,” with the only choice “either to let them have their way or go nuclear.”

Thus the U.S. will have put itself in the position of Russia, which has continued the promiscuous and dangerous Soviet nuclear doctrines upon which it relies because of weakness in its conventional forces and a dearth of “soft” powers. In short, American failures in vigilance may force a doctrinal step up the escalation ladder, and a step back into a more perilous nuclear age.

Save for the near miracles of ingenuity that have in the past served the U.S. so well, the only way to prevent this is with a massive, properly directed, long-overdue infusion of funds that will allow us to avoid the knife edge of risk upon which otherwise we will soon be dancing.

Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, is author of “Paris in the Present Tense.”

Appeared in the October 12, 2018, print edition.

Timothy Brewster - October 26, 2018

I feel that we need to reduce the pay of all congressional personnel, meaning congress and senate until they start earning it with the duties we voted them into office with. How can they be elected poor and come out multimillionaires. Service members enlisted poor and retire poor. Is this not a clear picture? Less pay for Congress will quarantee more service members. And yes, I’ve served, my sons have served, and my father and father-in-law has served. We know the cost of freedom.

Author Dustin Howard - October 29, 2018

Please thank them on our behalf.

Jim Christison - October 26, 2018

I was a member of the U.S Navy for four years in the 1950’s.I was on a missile frigate, which was state of the art in the Navy. The public was very proud of our military, back then. We were strong. Most countries respected our country. Then, the USSR tried to sneak some missiles into Cuba. President Kennedy had the backbone, just like President Trump, to tell the USSR to get the missiles out or else. Now, China is pulling some sneaky moves in the South China Sea. That is why we need a strong Military, always. Stop the foreign money give-a-ways and the unnecessary domestic spending. That will make up for the Military expenditures. GOD BLESS ALL OF OUR MILITARY.

David Schneider - October 26, 2018

My youngest is deploying to Afghanistan today. Second time there, plus Iraq twice, Korea once, Oklahoma twice, Colorado, Kansas and New York once each. Have a nice day

Author Dustin Howard - October 29, 2018

Please thank them on our behalf. We are forever in their debt.

william Miller - October 26, 2018

We need to always keep our military men and women first when it comes to providing the equipment they need and that means that Congress needs to appropriate the money that is needed! Build the wall and keep our Country strong!

ARNIE UHLIG - October 26, 2018

we should be able too reduce the size of or combine cabinets, such as agriculture, commerce, education, and health & human services, ie make the airlines fully pay for security. in business we could always cut spending by 10% with no harm, also have gov’t workers pay more for pensions or have them on a 403b, social security plan

Henry Vance - October 26, 2018

First – determine what is needed for an adequate military. Determine the cost to achieve that status.
Second – reduce the size of our established government departments enough to provide funding for the military.
Third – establish a funding plan to pay off our foreign debt as soon as possible.
Forth – Make laws to require congressional approval for borrowing and printing money. Require a pay off plan and timing for each loan so that it will be included in the annual budget.

Bernice Julian - October 26, 2018

Aside from arming the military, the issue of gays and transgenders in the military is real loser!. I am retired Air Force and the idea of having to bow to perverted behavior is worse than having to fight old arms.

Robert Boehler - October 26, 2018

Why can’t our congressmen and senators understand the our military cannot continue to do all that is asked of them with the minimal equipment and numbers of troops to do the job. We need more troops and better training and better equipment and better pay if they are to expected to do all that is asked of them

ROGER J ODANIEL - October 27, 2018

1. Require US Senators and legislators to be compensated by the State governments they represent instead of the Federal payroll, including fringe benefits and entitlements. This would provide a separation of power. They should not be allowed to vote themselves salary and fringe benefits.
2. Combine the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) into a single agency and name it Bureau of Statistics (BS). We all know what BS really means, so that would add transparency to what they publish.
3. Fire all of Obama’s czars.
4. Replace Jeff Sessions for just cause because he is not doing his job.
5. Require every new law to include repeal of an old law still on the books. Ban earmarks. Require repeal of an old law for every unique new provision in an omnibus bill. That would give the term “cap and trade” a whole new meaning.
Sincerely Irish,

Charles H King Jr - October 27, 2018

There are many areas of our government where costs can be reduced so that our military budget can be increased. Try domestic and foreign civil assistance programs. Domestically these are actually “give away” programs and should be programs that are provided on an earned basis. Foreign aid programs are very inefficient. There must be more control over how effective they are based on their purpose. I believe it is communally known that a great portion of these funds never accomplish what they are intended for, i.e. largely they are diverted to the ruling people’s pet projects if not to their personal benefit.
My estimate is that half of the foreign aid could be reallocated to military use where it is really needed.

Frank Tyminski - October 27, 2018

Stop supporting illegal immigrants

carol d. burks - October 27, 2018

WE should cut out some of the aid to other countries that have not used the aid to further their countries, quit giving such enormise raises to congressmen and othersin the government . cut out the graff.

William A Salmon - October 27, 2018

Too much emphasis is put on the federal government providing for the individual. Federal government should provide for the general security and defense of the US, establishment of federal level laws and enforcement, and to ensure state and local governments both have the responsibility and means to govern. Representatives as career politicians have too much power and obligation to others who help keep them in office. Term limit to eight years of service for all elected and appointed politicians, and eight years of prohibition as lobbyists post-service. Require each federal agency to compete for dollar value of their services and justify costs. Reward cutting federal expenses in areas where private business or local government can perform with more accountability and less cost. Essentially, the minds of our youth are being exploited in liberal colleges and universities to believe everything is a right or entitlement and there are enough ultra-wealthy to pay for everything society needs. Any spiritual beliefs as relating to a personal and collective moral compass is scoffed at as simple-minded and ridiculous, when it is our constitution which guides us to this norm. Simply, put an austerity plan in place to balance the debt and spending by a certain date and require it as a constitutional amendment to have no debt beyond each budget year (with consequences affecting legislators, not troops on the ground). A national balance sheet is a key to this transparency, and should be a litmus of the effectiveness of our elected representatives who serve us at our pleasure.

Maurice H. Martel - October 27, 2018

Future conflicts between countries will likely have less person to person battle.
Today, conflicts will be addressed by “intelligent missiles”, either by air or sea.
Our technology continues to improve.
We will continue to need manpower, but primarily to control the high technology

Harley Hunter - October 27, 2018

It is real easy IF we have politicians w/ the guts to adhere to our governing policies – The Constitution. Our Fed Gov’t is so out of control in its involvement in areas where our Constitution never permitted in the 1st place.
Therefore, dismantle the 8 Fed agencies & the horrendous bureaucratic cost associated therein never anticipated in the Constitution. In turn, the wasteful spending will stop.
Eliminate all gov’t pensions & make the blood sucking parasites at all levels of gov’t plan for their own retirement like the rest of us citizens must.

Larry Tucker - October 27, 2018

The first order of business for the military is to address all waste and mismanagement of the precious resources already allocated to the services. Immediate training and manning of contracts, project management, and quality assurance personnel must be on the priority list to bolster those improvements that could and should be made.

Sara Lavelle - October 27, 2018

A primary responsibility of the central government is to asssure the nation that it is secure.

Orlando Perez - October 27, 2018

America can and should change this situation of the armed forces. Heritage Foundation has a challenge to revive that conservative thinking “peace through force”. It is a national issue and of the different forces of the army. A solution to the budget reductions of Democratic governments could perhaps help increase the budget allocation with grant credits before the IR. Although it is not so easy at least the army is not an NGO but it is a non-profit institution. Excuse me for this crazy opinion, but if it is my way of cooperating, there is a great need.

Don Kaag - October 28, 2018

Just as an example, we are hemmhoraging pilots from all of the Services. Pilots sign up to fly. If the Services have insufficient aircraft or money for maintenance and spares are lacking, they will go where they can fly…the airlines, which have a critical shortfall of pilots too.

Al Wunsch - October 28, 2018

If the federal government returned to its primary duty of protection of America and cut all the programs we’ve built up since Roosevelt, we could afford a fully capable military. Reality is that politicians, including republicans, won’t stop deficit spending and increasing number of young people want hand outs. Phase out dept’s like education, energy, EPA etc, return health care to States but first educate our young on what happens when Federal programs with free stuff drive up taxes and National debt.

Chris Milord - October 29, 2018

The primary role of the five military branches is to defend our nation against domestic and foreign enemies. It is crucial that all of the armed forces receive a stable funding stream in order to inculcate top level training to all personnel to reduce accidents. Moreover, consistent funding will help to maintain current hardware and also develop fifth generation aircraft, cybersecurity programs, missile systems, ships, etc. In order to secure adequate funding, non-defense agencies could be streamlined to eliminate redundancies, and even the Pentagon could undergo procurement reform to cut out waste. Smart funding of the military will strengthen all branches and help them to meet emerging threats and prevail both in asymmetric and conventional battlefield environments. Our liberties depend upon a nimble and robust military apparatus.

Malcolm Craig - October 29, 2018

Continue building the military to a size and strength commensurate with the future threats of North Korea, China, and Russia. Reduce spending in other areas as follows:
1. Implements a hiring freeze in all other areas of government.
2. Revise social security to incrementally increase retirement age.
3. Replace obamacare with a free market driven system. (see latest Imprimus)

Ernest - October 29, 2018

Stop all not government needed projects that are spending and putting our National debt to extreme ‘s and also Stop the Government Unions where those doing wrongful can not be arrested ! Thank you for all your. Work projects! I can not give but I do pray for our U. S. A. And our leaders.

Harold Meany - October 29, 2018

Federal employees who sign off on overpriced items should be fired.Look at the discoveries of “Citizens Against Government Waste”
I agree with most of the comments already listed. Its WASTE !

Jane Tucker - October 30, 2018

I agree with CF Morton (Oct. 26 post) except only bring home troops gradually. Korea and Japan could take on some of that burden

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