WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, seeking to sharpen the Pentagon's focus on space, plans to create a new four-star general slot with broad responsibilities for organizing, training and equipping U.S. space forces, according to defense officials familiar with the plan.
The Pentagon said Monday that Rumsfeld would hold a news conference Tuesday to announce ``major changes to improve the leadership, management and organization of the nation's defense and intelligence space program.''
The announcement provided no details, but officials familiar with the plan said one change would be to assign broader responsibilities to the Air Force Space Command, based at Colorado Springs, Colo., and to put a four-star general in charge of providing the resources to execute space programs and operations.
The officials, who spoke on condition they not be identified, said Rumsfeld did not intend to announce who would fill the new post.
In the existing military structure, the four-star Air Force general who is commander in chief of U.S. Space Command — currently Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart — also holds the positions of commander in chief of North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Air Force Space Command.
Under Rumsfeld's plan, the Air Force Space Command job would be split off and made a separate four-star position. The Space Command apparently also would be given broader responsibilities, possibly including additional authority in the areas of acquisition, research and development.
Rumsfeld also plans to make organizational changes in Air Force civilian management of space programs, officials said.
Rumsfeld has made it well known that he believes more emphasis should be placed on organizing, unifying and strengthening the military's efforts in space operations and research. One aspect of this is likely to include the role of satellites in the missile defense system that President Bush has committed the nation to building. Another aspect may be protecting U.S. satellites against attack.
Until shortly after Bush nominated him in January, Rumsfeld was chairman of the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization. Created by Congress, the commission reported its findings and recommendations on Jan. 11 after six months of work.
Rumsfeld resigned from the commission after his nomination. Congress required that once the commission submitted its report to the secretary of defense, he must inform Congress how he intended to respond. Rumsfeld was using Tuesday's news conference to spell out his response.
The upshot of the commission's report, which naturally reflected some of Rumsfeld's own views, was that defense and intelligence space programs are organized and managed in ways that fail to reflect the growing importance of space to U.S. national security.
The commission said a lack of attention by the government to its satellites and space policy makes the United States ``an attractive candidate for a space Pearl Harbor.''
The United States depends on space more than any other country — for surveillance and other military operations, weather forecasts, cell phone connections — yet the White House, Congress and various government agencies fail to make space protection a top priority, the panel concluded.
The commission also said military conflicts in space are inevitable.
``We know from history that every medium — air, land and sea — has seen conflict,'' the commission's report said. ``Reality indicates that space will be no different. Given this virtual certainty, the United States must develop the means both to deter and to defend against hostile acts in and from space.''