Editor's note: Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune news service to give readers a broad view of issues.
None of America's armed forces can meet all of the demands placed on them by commanders today.
Just last week, the Navy said that for the second time in seven months, equipment failure prevented an amphibious assault ship - the USS Essex - from meeting a commitment at sea.
Unfortunately, this is not surprising. The U.S. military faces a readiness crisis - one confronting not just its people and end-strength cuts - but pushing equipment to the breaking point. Across all services, long-standing readiness problems are worsening and breakdowns are happening more frequently.
Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, testifying to Congress last July shortly before his promotion to Chief of Naval Operations, said: "The stress on the force is real. And it has been relentless."
The overall picture is dismal: While the Navy's fleet has shrunk by about 15 percent since 1998, the number of ships deployed overseas has remained constant. Each ship goes to sea longer and more often, resulting in debilitating maintenance problems.
Simple wear and tear is weakening defense capabilities across the board as the military's major platforms age after high wartime usage rates and a lack of major recapitalization since the Reagan buildup.
An Air Force F-15C literally broke in half during flight some years ago. Today, every single Navy cruiser hull has cracks; A-10C Warthogs have fuselage fractures, and the UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter fleet is regularly grounded. Over half the Navy's deployed aircraft are not ready for combat.
Built in the 1980s and 1990s, F/A-18C Hornets were designed to fly 6,000 hours. Delayed delivery of the F-35, however, has forced the services to squeeze an additional 4,000 flight hours out of the Hornets.
Yet, the almost-$1 trillion "stimulus" bill didn't contain a nickel for military modernization. Instead, the president and Congress have been cutting defense dollars and capabilities for the past three years.
Today, Washington wants to divert even more defense dollars to debt reduction - even in the face of the rapidly declining readiness of the U.S. military.
The latest defense budget takes a half-trillion dollars out of military spending over the next decade even though Pentagon leaders expect no letup in demand for U.S. forces worldwide.
While there is no quick or easy fix, admitting there is a problem and doing something about it should be everyone's priority.
In 2010, a bipartisan blue-ribbon panel issued a stark warning about the worrisome state of America's military:
"The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition and force structure."
Meeting the military's full modernization requirements will "require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term."
However, the price of U.S. weakness will be greater in the long run.
Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Readers may write to her at AEI, 1150 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036; website: www.aei.org