U .S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), an outspoken advocate for national security space activities, complained recently about what he sees as the declining emphasis on space within the U.S. Department of Defense.
The former chairman of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee expressed his concerns in a March 1 letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This is a tad ironic, since Mr. Rumsfeld, who arrived at the Pentagon’s top post in January 2001, was widely expected to put space front and center in a military realignment designed to maximize the efficiency of U.S. forces based on information superiority.
To his credit, Mr. Rumsfeld made several strong moves early in his term to elevate the profile of space at the Pentagon. But more recent developments suggest that the tide has indeed shifted.
The origins of that shift may lie in the 2002 decision to fold U.S. Space Command into U.S. Strategic Command, whose traditional role is managing the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal. The arguments in its favor seemed reasonable enough at the time: space would be better integrated into military operations; would gain an influential advocate in Strategic Command’s commander; and would retain its four-star advocate at the head of Air Force Space Command.
In hindsight, however, the move appears to have lowered the visibility and status of space. This is in no small part due to all of the other responsibilities that have since been swept into Strategic Command’s portfolio.
As Sen. Allard pointed out, what happened with space at Strategic Command runs counter to one of the main messages delivered by the 2001 “Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management,” a blue-ribbon panel that was led by Mr. Rumsfeld before his late-2000 nomination to serve as defense secretary. Today some of the Space Commission’s most salient recommendations for raising the profile of space within the U.S. national security establishment remain unfulfilled.
Under pressure from congressional intelligence panels, for example, Mr. Rumsfeld last year split the Air Force undersecretary and National Reconnaissance Office director positions, which he had merged based on a commission recommendation designed to better integrate classified and unclassified space activities while creating a high-level advocate for both. Key Space Commission proposals falling outside Mr. Rumsfeld’s bailiwick, including having the president formally establish national security space as a top priority, were never adopted.
There are other, more recent, signs of slippage. Gen. Lance Lord, the current commander of U.S. Air Force Space Command, officially retires April 1 — his retirement ceremony was March 3 — and a permanent successor has yet to be named. Gen. Lord’s job will be filled on an interim basis by his deputy, Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz, but the fact that no replacement has been nominated at this stage of the game is unusual — certainly it does not convey a sense of urgency in the matter.
Also troubling is the uncertainty surrounding the future of what today is the U.S. military’s top uniformed billet dedicated to space. Although Gen. Lord has said there is no truth to rumors that the job of Air Force Space Command chief will be reduced from a four-star to a three-star billet, he acknowledged there could be changes as the service scrambles to reduce manpower levels.
One possibility under discussion is folding information operations that today are a part of Air Combat Command into Air Force Space Command. Also under consideration, according to sources, is having Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, which procures U.S. military space hardware, report to Air Force Materiel Command rather than Air Force Space Command.
On the face of it, there is logic to both moves. As Gen. Lord noted in a recent interview, space and information operations are closely interrelated. And since Air Force Materiel Command is in charge of all other procurement for the service, why not fold space into that portfolio?
A good reason not to make either switch is that space, as so many experts have argued, is unique in many ways. For example, satellites and related systems perform functions that typically are not military-service specific, and as such tend to lose out to aircraft when push comes to shove in Air Force procurement decisions. Aligning satellites more closely with aircraft within the Air Force procurement bureaucracy could easily make that situation worse.
Regarding the possibility of combining information and space operations under a single four-star command, there can be little doubt that the two are inextricably linked. But an inevitable outcome of making that change is that the officer in charge of the merged command will not be devoting his or her energies to space on a full-time basis.
Amid these and other indications of space’s waning influence, there is at least one encouraging development: a proposal to separate the space and global strike missions within the Joint Functional Component Command structure at Strategic Command. This would elevate space activity somewhat from where it currently sits within Strategic Command and properly recognize both its unique nature and its relevance to just about everything the U.S. military does.
But the bigger picture, on balance, is less encouraging. Sen. Allard’s colleagues should join him in pressing Defense Department officials to explain how they intend to reverse the current trend, which threatens to leave the U.S. military unable to fully and properly exploit one of its greatest advantages as it retools for the future.