While all eyes are on President Bush's proposed Homeland Security Department, a far more slick entity is poised to radically change the way the United States defends itself.
Far above homeland security on the technological food chain will be the merged U.S. Space Command and Strategic Command.
Announced by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on June 26, the command promises to give a far higher profile, within the Pentagon, to several essential elements of future warfighting. These include striking an enemy powerfully, across great distances, with conventional rather than nuclear weapons (conventional strategic strike), and using space to disrupt enemy information systems including computers and satellites (information disruption).
Together, these elements form the core of a "global strike" capability. Among global strike's uses is that it can carry out military action designed to pre-empt an enemy from attacking the U.S. with, say, weapons of mass destruction. Put another way, global strike is an essential ingredient of Bush's newly announced foreign policy of "pre-emption."
In order for the U.S. to have a strong and complete global strike capability, the new command will need to push the services to provide the following:
Strategic Strike: To ensure a strong non-nuclear strategic strike capability, the new command will have to push for long-range, stealthy unmanned aerial vehicles. While UAVs were all the rage in the Afghanistan war, there's insufficient attention being paid to developing an unmanned craft that can fly across great distances and remain unseen by enemy radar.
The command will need to push for more long-range, stealthy bombers such as the B-2 or a new long-range bomber. Such aircraft, armed with precision-guided munitions, can take on much of the role previously assumed by nuclear weapons. Yet because opposition from the fighter community is so strong inside the Pentagon, the U.S. has only 21 B-2s, an irresponsibly small number. The new space/strategic command will also have to invest in stealthy air mobility, namely stealthy refuellers for the stealthy long-range aircraft.
Space/Information Warfare: The new command will need to exploit further the use of space for military purposes. Among the necessary advances that are under way but that should be pushed even harder are space-based radar for tracking across great distances mobile enemy targets on the ground, technology with which to blind enemy satellites and technology for knocking out enemy computers and conduct other such information warfare.
The key elements won't come to pass, though, if the man selected to lead the strategic/space command, Adm. James Ellis, fails to be a strong supporter of conventional strategic strike. After all, there's no shortage of advocates in the Pentagon for doing things exactly as they have been done in the past — namely, to focus on short-range conventional strike such as fighter aircraft instead of on long-range stealthy bombers. Since the beginning of the Bush administration, that backward-looking group has tried hard to deep-six any progress on long-range, stealthy strike.
Ellis himself hasn't divulged publicly where he stands on the issue. But there's reason to be hopeful that the admiral who currently heads Stratcom believes that long-range, conventional strategic strike is vital.
"Integrating non-nuclear capabilities into strategic forces strengthens our joint approach to developing and operating military forces … with technological advances, we have the potential to seamlessly integrate existing or projected enhancements to non-nuclear capabilities such as … precision strike to improve our strategic capabilities," Ellis told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 14, while discussing the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review.
It remains to be seen whether Ellis can turn his views into action and win battles inside the Pentagon. If he does, he'll go a great distance toward winning wars outside the Pentagon as well.
Melana Zyla Vickers, a columnist for TechCentralStation.com, is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum. She is a former editorial-board member of USA Today, Canada's The Globe and Mail and The Asian Wall Street Journal, and a former editor at the Far Eastern Economc Review. She has a master's degree in strategic studies and economics from Johns Hopkins University's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.