Storm relief strains US military as new report gives sober look at readiness

The U.S. military has deteriorated in strength by years of underinvestment and lack of modernization to the point that some service branches are in "a dire state of readiness," according to a report issued Thursday.

At the same time, the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal is suffering from "degradation" even as other nations such as Russia are engaged in an aggressive buildup of nuclear capabilities, said the report from the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think tank.

"We believe that the U.S. military is at marginal status and it’s trending toward weak," said retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, a senior research fellow for defense programs at Heritage and editor of its 2018 "Index of Military Strength" report.

Wood, speaking at an event where the report was presented, said the current troublesome status of the U.S. military is due to a general decline in U.S. defense investment since the end of the Cold War and was only made worse by decreased spending under the Budget Control Act and sequestration. It comes as there are increasing threats from nuclear-armed North Korea as well as more hostile military activities by superpowers such as Russia and China.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, spoke at the Heritage event Thursday and said, "We have the best military in the world. There’s no question about that. But I also believe we have not been resourcing our military commensurate with what we ask our military to do."

According to the report, "Overall, the 2018 Index concludes that the current U.S. military force is likely capable of meeting the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various presence and engagement activities but that it would be very hard-pressed to do more and certainly would be ill-equipped to handle two nearly simultaneous major regional contingencies."

In perhaps a sign of the U.S. military being stretched too thin, the Pentagon said Thursday new U.S. forces flowing into Afghanistan have been delayed due to hurricane relief efforts. The Pentagon has sent extensive resources to help with assistance to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands in the region.

"Forces are flowing to Afghanistan; they have been slightly delayed by ongoing hurricane relief efforts," Joint Staff Director and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters late Thursday.

The Pentagon said part of the delay is due to the shortage of available military transport planes, which were mobilized to bring in food, water, generators and other critical supplies as well as personnel to help with the storm relief. Thousands of active duty and National Guard troops have been sent to areas with devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, and the Pentagon said the number of troops helping on the mission may rise as they are needed.

On Tuesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress in hearings that the U.S. had about 11,000 troops in Afghanistan and an additional 3,000 U.S. troops would be arriving. The increased troop strength is part of President Donald Trump ‘s new strategy on fighting […]