By Katherine McIntire Peters
May 9, 2001In his first major decision on revamping the military forces, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday announced far-reaching changes to military space programs and gave the Air Force responsibility for all space operations within the Defense Department. The Army and Navy will retain space programs and expertise unique to their services, but will report to the Air Force under the new structure.
Tuesday's announcement signaled Rumsfeld's commitment to elevating the role of space operations at Defense. Rumsfeld was also fulfilling a requirement to provide Congress with his assessment of the January report of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization--a commission Rumsfeld chaired before becoming Defense Secretary.
The United States' tremendous reliance on satellite communications for both civilian and military needs has caused concern about the vulnerability of those satellites to enemy attack. While the Air Force has long held the bulk of forces devoted to space operations at Defense, many space advocates within the service have felt marginalized by Air Force leaders they believed were more committed to aircraft than to spacecraft. While Rumsfeld's announcement is likely to allay those concerns, it is also likely to raise concerns among those who fear the move will lead to the further militarization of space--a fear Rumsfeld says is misplaced.
"A new and comprehensive national security space management and organizational approach is needed to promote and protect our interests in space," he said. Rumsfeld and CIA director George Tenet have been meeting regularly to address intelligence matters related to space operations and will co- chair an executive committee that will review issues of joint concern. In addition, a Policy Coordinating Committee for Space is being established within the National Security Council to provide a senior, interagency forum to develop, coordinate and monitor the implementation of space activities.
Among the changes at Defense:
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, who wrote the legislation in the House that mandated the space commission, applauded Rumsfeld's announcement. "There are close to 750 satellites in orbit around the Earth right now. Nearly half of these belong to the United Sates. We've got more to lose than any other country, not only because we've got more satellites up there, but because we rely on these satellites more than anyone else," he said. "To leave these assets unprotected just doesn't make sense, particularly at a time when other nations either have the means or are developing the means to bring them down."
"Make no mistake--just as dominance of the skies was critical to military success in the 20th century, dominance of space will be critical to military success in the 21st. Secretary Rumsfeld's decision to better focus our resources and efforts in this area recognizes that fact," Thornberry said.
By Katherine McIntire Peters
May 9, 2001