U.S. Strategic Commander Warns the U.S. Military is a Sinking Ship

By Kenin M. Spivak, Guest Commentary
December 7, 2022

(Views expressed by guest commentators may not reflect the views of OAN or its affiliates.)

KORENGAL VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN - OCTOBER 27: U.S. soldiers board an Army Chinook transport helicopter after it brought fresh soldiers and supplies to the Korengal Outpost on October 27, 2008 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The military spends huge effort and money to fly in supplies to soldiers of the 1-26 Infantry based in the Korengal Valley, site of some of the fiercest fighting of the Afghan war. The unpaved road into the remote area is bad and will become more treacherous with the onset of winter. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
KORENGAL VALLEY, AFGHANISTAN – OCTOBER 27: U.S. soldiers board an Army Chinook transport helicopter after it brought fresh soldiers and supplies to the Korengal Outpost on October 27, 2008 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. The military spends huge effort and money to fly in supplies to soldiers of the 1-26 Infantry based in the Korengal Valley, site of some of the fiercest fighting of the Afghan war. The unpaved road into the remote area is bad and will become more treacherous with the onset of winter. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

The Reagan National Defense Forum convened its annual conference in Simi Valley this weekend against a backdrop of declining trust in the United States military. The axiom that U.S. armed forces are the world’s most powerful must be evaluated in the context of America’s extensive global defense commitments, and the insufficient funding, slow modernization, and woke mandates that are rapidly eroding its superiority.

The 2022 Reagan National Defense Survey found that just 48% of American have a “great deal of trust and confidence” in the U.S. military, down from 70% in 2018. The leading concerns cited by respondents are an increasingly politicized military leadership, lack of competence of presidents as commanders-in-chief, and weak performance and competence of the military’s civilian’s leadership, including “woke” practices that undermine military effectiveness.

According to the survey, only 13% of 18 to 29-year-olds are highly willing to join the military, while 46% would refuse to do so. Given that more than 75% of America’s 17 to 24-year-olds are ineligible to serve because of health problems, obesity, substance abuse, or criminal records, this does not bode well for recruitment.

Military and civilian experts agree with the American public.

During Congressional testimony in 2016, then Army Chief of Staff, and now, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley warned that the US Army was in a state of “high risk” as to whether it would be ready to defend the nation and respond to a large conflict. Though the Army has taken steps since then to modernize, its overall readiness has declined.

In 2017, then-Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff General David Goldfein testified that the Air Force is “at our lowest state of readiness in our history.” Since then, the number of combat-ready fighters has declined, fewer pilots are joining the Air Force, and flying hours have declined to historic lows. Wilson acknowledged the Air Force was 25% smaller than required for combat with a peer competitor; yet, the service intends to further reduce its fighter force by 19%. Though the Air Force has announced new weapons systems since 2017, including the B-21 Raider stealth bomber unveiled by Northrop-Grumman on Friday, Chinese development and deployment of next generation military technology considerably outpaces the United States.

Speaking last month, Admiral Charles Richard, Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command put it bluntly: “As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking…As those curves keep going, it isn’t going to matter how good our (operating plan) is or how good our commanders are, or how good our horses are — we’re not going to have enough of them. And that is a very near-term problem.” Last year, Richard described the speed and sophistication of China’s expanding nuclear capabilities, including an orbital bombardment system, as “breathtaking.”

The U.S. Army is the smallest it has been since 1940, the Air Force is the smallest and oldest it has been since its inception, and the Navy, though well-below its targeted size, retires more ships than it builds. The Army missed its FY 2022 recruiting goal by 25%, its worst performance since the U.S. military became an all-volunteer force nearly 50 years ago. The Navy, Air Force and Marines hit their goals only by accelerating enlistments of recruits scheduled for 2023.

In December 2021, Harvard’s Kennedy School Belfer Center concluded that “the era of U.S. military primacy is over: dead, buried, and gone.” It warned that “if in the near future there is a ‘limited war’ over Taiwan or along China’s periphery, the U.S. would likely lose.” Recent Congressional testimony reveals that over the last decade the U.S. has lost every war game in competition with China, excluding only a game that gave the United State weaponry that does not exist.

In October, the Heritage Foundation’s highly regarded annual assessment of U.S. military readiness concluded that “as currently postured, the U.S. military is at growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests…. This is the logical consequence 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.”

Based on its mission of concurrently prevailing in two approximately concurrent major conflicts, while also preserving freedom of passage, Heritage ranked overall U.S. military power as “weak,” citing, among other failures, missed retention and recruitment goals, a shortage of advanced weaponry, munitions, and state-of-the-art technology; aging equipment; and inadequate training. Though Heritage inexplicably excludes the Ready Reserve and National Guard in its analysis, if current trends continue, a more comprehensive methodology will soon reach the same conclusions.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville believes the Army needs at least 55,000 more troops. Heritage pegs the combat troop shortage at 38%, and observes that both Russia and China deploy artillery and missiles that are superior to systems available to U.S. forces. Heritage ranks the Army’s ability to fulfill its mission as “weak.”

In February 2022, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday testified that the U.S. Navy needs more than 500 ships, and the Navy estimates it needs an additional 35,000 sailors. The Navy has 298 combat ships, and lacks the shipbuilding capacity or budget to even approach the Admiral’s goal. Instead, the fleet is expected to decline to 280 combat ships by 2037, and the Navy is losing sailors.

Heritage ranks the Navy as “weak,” driven by an insufficient number of ships and inadequate training, and the Air Force as “very weak,” because of insufficient combat-ready aircraft, aging aircraft, their physical locations, and inadequate training.

Both China and Russia are capable of disabling American satellites. Space Force, created to protect the U.S. in space, has developed only limited defenses, and, based on publicly available information, only one basic offensive system to interfere with an adversary’s satellites. Heritage ranks Space Force as “weak.”

On a more optimistic note, Heritage scored the Marine Corps as “strong” because of its modernization efforts and a more limited mission that contemplates only one major battle at a time. Still, the Marine Corps is trending smaller, shedding capabilities such as tanks and artillery it might need in a major action, and has only 66% of the pilots required for its fixed-wing aircraft.

Russia and China are aggressively modernizing and expanding their nuclear capabilities, including nuclear-powered cruise missiles, nuclear-capable unmanned underwater vehicles, and hypersonic glide vehicles. The U.S. is not keeping up, and has, at best, limited defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles and hypersonic weapons.

As I recently described in The American Mind, the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy prioritizes climate change, and diversity, equity and inclusion, rather than lethal force, or defending against aggressors. As the termination last year of Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeiser for speaking against critical race theory, and the Pentagon’s April 2022 Equity Action Plan underscore, the administration is conditioning contracts, assignments and promotion on fealty to these woke precepts. Standards are being eroded, and unit cohesion is under attack.

Opponents of increasing the Pentagon’s budget falsely claim it is larger than the next several countries combined. Heritage found that when adjusting for what is included in the budget and purchasing power, in 2020, China alone spent 53% as much as the U.S., on a path to soon reach parity. An American Enterprise Institute study observed that more than 14% of the  proposed FY 2023 defense budget is allocated for non-military priorities such as climate change, and humanitarian aid.

Military leaders may overstate their concerns in their quest for funding, and the Ukraine war highlights the difference between motivated troops, such as the all-volunteer U.S. military, and conscripts. Still, the trends and steps required to avoid unacceptable outcomes are unmistakable. The United States must reprioritize its national defense strategy from progressive dogma to the military’s ability to deploy lethal force to achieve its mission.

Though the U.S. military may still be the strongest in the world, and more capable than some of its critics assert, if the Administration and Congress do not soon take sustained action to change course, the inevitable result will be systemic weakness that devastates military, economic, and even progressive goals.

Kenin M. Spivak is founder and chairman of SMI Group LLC, an international consulting firm and investment bank. He is the author of fiction and non-fiction books and has served as a director and C-suite officer of public and private companies. Spivak has written for National Review, The American Mind, the National Association of Scholars, and Huffington Post. He was chairman of the Editorial Board of the Knowledge Exchange Business Encyclopedia, and a long-time director of the RAND Corporation Center for Corporate Ethics and Governance. He received his A.B., M.B.A., and J.D. from Columbia University