Is the Pentagon Headed for a Military Readiness Crisis?

    Michael O’Hanlon

    Security, Middle East

    A U.S. Marine with Combat Engineering Company, Combat Assault Battalion (CAB), 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force uses a radio Sept. 12, 2017, at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, during CAB Battalion Field Exercise 17.4. Flickr / U.S. Department of Defense

    After nearly two continuous decades of war, the armed forces are under significant stress. But to exaggerate today’s problems as a “crisis” is risky.

    Washington is abuzz with talk that the U.S. military is increasingly hollow, and that its readiness is in crisis. American military readiness, defined as the ability of individual units in the armed forces to execute their assigned missions promptly and competently, is indeed uneven today, with some serious problems. A Department of Defense that downsized by more than a third after the Cold War ended, then spent fifteen years at war, and most recently also endured the budgetary shenanigans of sequestration and recurrent continuing resolutions, has indeed been through a lot. All would agree that the United States has asked a great deal of its soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, airwomen and their families, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard over in the Department of Homeland Security.

    But some of the current talk goes dangerously too far. If believed literally, then it could embolden U.S. enemies, suck resources that are also needed for military innovation and modernization to fix short-term readiness problems, and make taxpayers wonder why the Pentagon can’t manage its forces better on $ 600 billion a year (well above the Cold War average). Just as bad—or worse—it could convince lawmakers to fund a big defense buildup by cutting the State Department, Agency for International Development, and other equally crucial parts of the country’s foreign-policy toolkit, as President Trump has proposed. That would hurt diplomacy and development far more than it would help the armed forces, given the proportionate amounts of money involved for each in any such reallocation.

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