Those who have long believed that the U.S. military does not make the most of what space has to offer are bound to have a unique take on the tenure of outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In Mr. Rumsfeld, who resigned under fire Nov. 8, space advocates had a kindred spirit who tried to make their shared vision a reality.
Mr. Rumsfeld arrived in the job fresh from having chaired an expert panel mandated by Congress to review the U.S. military’s space management structure. The purpose of the exercise was to come up with an organizational blueprint for maximizing the contribution of space systems to national security.
The panel’s report was released just as Mr. Rumsfeld took office, much to the delight of those who believed — correctly — that space did not get the respect it deserved from senior Pentagon planners. Mr. Rumsfeld not only recognized the crucial and growing role of satellites in keeping the peace as well as in winning wars; he saw space, with its attributes as a force multiplier, as a key enabler for his plan to reshape the military into a leaner, more agile fighting force.
There has been progress under Mr. Rumsfeld’s watch: The military has made great strides in getting space-based capabilities and data into the hands of forces in the field; and space has earned a prominent spot on the radar screen of the military brass. But Mr. Rumsfeld’s bid to more closely integrate classified and unclassified space activities has foundered amid turf battles between the military and intelligence community.
No one knows for sure what Mr. Rumsfeld might have been able to accomplish in terms of military transformation had it not been for the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the ensuing war in Iraq. The botched execution of that war led to Mr. Rumsfeld’s downfall and promises to be his enduring legacy.
Space advocates, however, also will remember Mr. Rumsfeld, for all his flaws, as a formidable intellect who properly envisioned a more prominent place for satellites in the hierarchy of military priorities and capabilities. Here’s hoping that all of his successors bring with them a similar vision for space.