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Aging Superpower – Is America’s Military Declining?

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Aging Superpower

Is America’s Military Declining?

No power in history has ever topped the United States’ military capability. Yet it is beginning to show cracks, leaving leaders concerned about its preparedness for the next war.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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A generation of heroes. The face of American influence in foreign nations. The “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

These were the phrases U.S. President Barack Obama used to describe America’s Armed Forces in 2014 during a televised address at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare airport over a thousand miles away, an Atlantic reporter observed the cool reaction by the public around him. After giving the address a short glance, everyone simply “went back to their smartphones and their laptops and their Cinnabons as the president droned on.”

Let’s boil down this situation further…

Statement: You are protected by not only the strongest armed force in the world, but the finest fighting force in the history of the world!

Reaction: Shrug shoulders and mosey along.

This attitude is characteristically American. This is the way most have viewed the nation’s armed forces for their entire lives—always the best, always the strongest. This is the way they assume it will always be.

Since the end of World War II, the U.S. military has stood a cut above the rest. It is ever at the cusp of modern technology with stealth bombers, nuclear submarines that have never refueled in decades at sea, and the world’s largest aircraft carriers. Its defense budget is larger than that of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan—combined.

It is only natural for citizens to cradle a deep sense of security. But there is a danger in blindly relying on its permanence.

A few generations ago, when America stood as the world’s lone superpower, the public had a very different view of the country’s defense. “At the end of World War II, nearly 10 percent of the entire U.S. population was on active military duty—which meant most able-bodied men of a certain age (plus the small number of women allowed to serve),” The Atlantic reported.

The publication explained that because of Americans’ deep connection with the military, its weaknesses were more apparent: “Through the decade after World War II, when so many American families had at least one member in uniform, political and journalistic references were admiring but not awestruck. Most Americans were familiar enough with the military to respect it while being sharply aware of its shortcomings, as they were with the school system, their religion, and other important and fallible institutions.

“Now the American military is exotic territory to most of the American public.”

In “today’s Iraq-Afghanistan era, in which everyone ‘supports’ the troops but few know very much about them,” military and intelligence officials are often portrayed in media as “brave and daring,” and most “lack the comfortable closeness with the military that would allow them to question its competence as they would any other institution’s.”

The problem with this?

As society gazes at impressive numbers and feats, cracks are slowly undermining the foundations of U.S. power.

According to conservative research and educational institute The Heritage Foundation, America’s fighting force is one-third smaller than it was during the height of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war hung over society. Yet, it noted, that the world is still as dangerous today. Russia, China, North Korea and terrorist groups threaten America’s global authority.

Consequently, the U.S. “risks seeing its interests increasingly challenged and the world order it has led since World War II undone.”

General Ray Odierno, a retired four-star general who served as chief of staff of the Army, stated in an interview with Heritage: “We simply cannot take the readiness of our force for granted. If we do not have the resources to train and equip the force, our soldiers, our young men and women, are the ones who will pay the price potentially with their lives.”

The Old

The United States military has been declining in certain areas for decades.

For one, the force is shrinking in size. Data from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) revealed: “In the mid-1950s, after the Korean War drawdown the U.S. military consisted of some 2.9 million active-duty troops. By 1975, after the Vietnam War drawdown it stood at about 2.1 million. After the end of the Cold War, it fell to some 1.4 million troops. And today, the U.S. military is manned by some 1.3 million active-duty service members.”

The declining numbers are a worrying trend when pitted against the numbers of other armies. China’s active-duty service members total more than 2 million troops.

In addition to a smaller force, weapons inventories are aging.

More statistics from CNAS paint the picture: “For example, the overall number of battle force ships in the U.S. Navy has declined dramatically over time—from over 1,000 ships in 1955 to some 560 ships in 1975 and about 270 ships today. However, the size of the carrier force—still very much the core of the U.S. Navy—has been reduced at a more measured pace, falling from 15 in 1975 to 10 today. Similarly, while the number of Air Force fighter and attack aircraft has been cut significantly since the mid-1980s, falling from some 4,400 in 1985 to 2,500 by 2000, and to 2,000 today, the Air Force’s fleets of transport and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and related aircraft have been cut much more modestly—respectively, by about one-third and one-quarter since the 1980s.”

“Notably, the Air Force has witnessed a far more severe aging of its weapons inventory over the past several decades than have the other services. The impact on the Air Force can be seen especially in its combat aircraft and tanker fleets. In 1980, the average age of the Air Force’s fighter inventory was under 10 years; today the average age stands at 24 years. Likewise, over this same period the average age of the Air Force’s bomber force has increased from under 20 years to 39 years, and its tanker fleet from about 20 years to 38 years.”

Think: Air Force pilots are using planes designed as far back as the 1970s!

One example is the B-1B “Bone” bomber, one of three strategic bombers in the U.S. Air Force fleet alongside the B-2 Spirit and the B-52 Stratofortress. All “Bone” bombers, introduced between 1986-1988, were recently grounded for the second time in less than a year because of problems with their emergency ejection system. There is no indication how long it will be before the fleet can fly again, though they are expected to remain in service until 2036.

Similar trends exist for transport ships and planes.

Lawmakers expressed concern whether “the military could get to the fight” given the 46 transport ships in the Navy’s ready reserve force has an average age of 44 years. “The steel is rotting,” retired Rear Admiral Mark Buzby, administrator of the Marine Administration, testified to lawmakers in Congress.

A chart revealed that six of these ships lost their certificate of inspection, and 13 were considered “not mission capable.”

Such facts, in the face of increasing Russian and Chinese aggression, led to President Donald Trump’s expansion of defense spending and push for completely new weaponry to replace the old.

Easier said than done.

The New

The pace at which new weapons platforms are developed and deployed has, over time, slowed significantly—and with it become more expensive.

“This trend has, again, probably been most significant in the Air Force, particularly among combat aircraft,” CNAS reported. “Between 1946 and 1965, the Air Force deployed 15 different types of fighter and attack aircraft. By comparison, between 1966 and 1985 it introduced only five new aircraft of these types. And in the roughly 30 years since, it has introduced only two new designs—the F-22 and the F-35.”

Geopolitics threaten to derail construction of high-tech F-35 fighter jets. The U.S. halted jet deliveries to Turkey, one of the 11 countries across the globe that make parts for the aircraft, because of the Mideast nation’s plan to purchase a Russian missile system.

This move by Washington will require the aircraft’s builder, Lockheed Martin Corporation, to seek out another producer of fuselage, landing gear and cockpit displays.

“Because Turkey is not just an F-35 purchaser, but an industrial partner, blocking delivery of these systems presents a major escalation by the United States as it threatens to impose serious costs on both sides,” Andrew Hunter, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said to Reuters.

One F-35 costs $90 million to construct.

The Navy’s first ship in its $23 billion program to construct a new class of destroyers came more than five years after it was originally scheduled to be produced.

In addition, the Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer is not “expected to have an initial combat capability until September 2021, at least three years later than planned,” Bloomberg reported.

“The latest delay for the first $7.8 billion vessel, designated the DDF-1000, may add to doubts that the Navy can build, outfit and deliver vessels on time and within cost targets.”

“The new information underscores the risks that we have reported on for many years,” Shelby Oakley, the Government Accountability Office’s supervisor for naval systems reviews, stated. “When the Navy pushes forward on lead ships without realistic cost, schedule and performance expectations, the result is ships that are late, over cost, and incomplete.”

The delay is the result of challenges constructing the first model of a new class, a limited capacity of labor in specialized fields, and the unexpected complexity of completing industrial work while crews were stationed on the ship. Each year, $160 million is added to the cost of construction, with cumulative additional costs of $4 billion over 11 years. This means the basic cost ($7.8 billion) has risen to over $13.2 billion because of delays.

Would We Win World War III?

To illustrate the implications of waning military preparedness and capabilities, the RAND corporation ran a simulation of World War III scenarios. In the games, U.S. Armed Forces consistently experience the most losses in a conflict with Russia and China.

“We lose a lot of people. We lose a lot of equipment. We usually fail to achieve our objective of preventing aggression by the adversary,” RAND analyst David Ochmanek explained at the Center for a New American Security.

“In these simulated fights, the ‘red’ aggressor [Chinese and Russian] force often obliterates US stealth fighters on the runway, sends US warships to the depths, destroys US bases, and takes out critical US military systems,” Business Insider reported.

“‘In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky,’ Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense and an experienced war-gamer, said…‘But it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.’”

RAND concluded that the U.S. is “at greater risk than at any time in decades.”

Unfounded Confidence

“History is replete with examples of disasters born of lack of strategic foresight,” Lani Kass, a special assistant to Air Force chief of staff Michael Moseley, stated in Breaking Defense.

Dr. Kass explained the dangers of baseless military confidence: “The U.S. Army after the Civil War—arguably the most experienced on the planet—spent 30 years fighting the Indians, only to later struggle to deploy a brigade to Cuba. Likewise, Britain and France let their conventional power fade—while their hubris blossomed—after post-1815 resulting in a blood bath in the Crimean War and near-existential disasters in the two World Wars that followed. In the wake of a spectacular victory in June 1967, the Israeli Defense Forces rested on its laurels, secure in the soon-to-be-proven fallacy that past successes and strategic depth would deter any emerging threat. Six years later, in October 1973, Israel fought for its very survival, having fallen victim to a strategic surprise masterfully orchestrated by seemingly defeated foes.

“The implications are clear. First, aggressors tend to assume risks that seem irrational—and, thus, improbable—to the intended victim. This leads to strategic dislocation, and, potentially, catastrophic failure. Second, credibility born of past successes rarely suffices as a deterrent. Third, hubris kills.”

A wise man once said, “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (Prov. 25:19).

Another Bible scripture states the danger of unfounded self-confidence: “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). The same could be applied to Americans who believe and rely on their armed forces. People are most vulnerable when they take their security for granted!

If Americans are to be truly confident in their nation’s might, they should know where that might comes from.

Is it from centuries of industrious labor and ingenuity? An unwavering belief in democratic values? Naturally humane and generous hearts?

Some believe it is because of the nation’s Founding Fathers’ devotion to establishing a country under God, who provided prosperity and unmatched military might that carries on to this day.

Often, this can seem the only way to explain such unprecedented power—not to mention prosperity, peace and freedoms that are unparalleled in the history of mankind.

Yet this idea can be proven. The same book that exposes the danger of self-confidence also shows the true source of these blessings.

The Bible book of Genesis contains an account in which God promises special treatment to both a single nation and a company of nations (Gen. 35:11).

A significant element of this package of blessings is unprecedented military power. Notice: “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob” (49:23-24).

This power—clearly given to the United States of America as well as Great Britain and its Commonwealth—comes from God!

As sure as these were divine blessings, just as surely they can be taken away. This is no time to rest on laurels and exercise blind confidence, because these blessings are conditional.

Read America and Britain in Prophecy to see what this means for the country’s future.

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