Funding Prospects for Pentagon Space Programs Still Unclear

By Jeremy Singer
Space News Staff Writer,


WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced May 8 organizational changes designed to elevate the priority of U.S. military space programs, but would not say whether any increase in space spending is forthcoming.

At a Pentagon press conference called to announce the changes, Rumsfeld declined to discuss how they might affect specific military space programs.

High-level shuffle

The changes include designating the undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force as director of the U.S. National Reconnaissance office, effectively placing responsibility for all U.S. national security space programs under one office.

Rumsfeld also will create a four-star general’s slot to run Air Force Space Command. Currently Air Force Space Command and U.S. Space Command — which provides space-based services to all the military services — are run by the same officer.

Both changes were among those recommended by a congressionally mandated expert panel that Rumsfeld chaired until being nominated for a second stint as defense secretary in December. The findings of the "Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization" were released Jan. 11.

Other space commission recommendations to be adopted by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon include placing space high on the research agenda of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as well as the individual military services.

However, Rumsfeld said he will not ask Congress for permission to create a position of undersecretary of defense for space, intelligence and information, as recommended by the space commission.

Money questions deferred

Soon after taking the reins at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld ordered a sweeping review of U.S. military strategy and priorities, triggering widespread speculation that space would be a major beneficiary of the resulting changes.

But in advance of the release of the 2002 budget request in June, Rumsfeld would not tip his hand as to what lies in store for specific military space programs.

It will probably take several months for the Pentagon to devise a plan that includes specific funding improvements for specific space programs, one key defense official said.

"The 2003 budget [request] is where we will see the major changes that are needed," Gen. Richard B. Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a May 7 speech.

Let industry do what it does well

Speaking at the Global Air and Space 2001 conference in Washington sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Myers said the Pentagon will focus its resources on developing new capabilities.

"We should not be investing a lot of money in things that industry can do. We should focus on the things that only we can do," Myers said.

He noted that satellite communications is something industry does well and would not be a development priority for the Pentagon.

Myers, a former commander of U.S. Space Command, said much of the emphasis would be in monitoring and intelligence gathering from space.

"There will be a move [in emphasis] from reconnaissance to surveillance. We will be focusing on things like space-based radar," Myers said.

U.S. defense officials generally use the term "reconnaissance" to refer to the periodic gathering of information about a specific intelligence target; "surveillance" implies near constant monitoring of a target.

Myers also stressed that "there has been no decision to put weapons in space."

"A real busy summer"

The Pentagon’s next focus, Myers said, will be on the Quadrennial Defense Review  a review of U.S. defense priorities and doctrine conducted every four years.

"That will be the mechanism to test out new ideas," he said. "It will be a real busy summer and fall and those who thought they had Labor Day off are probably mistaken."

U.S. Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.), a leading advocate of Pentagon space programs, told Space News he is unsure if space programs will need more money in the budget for the next several years. "My guess is they will," Smith said.

However, the Pentagon may find that the organizational changes being implemented by Rumsfeld will create efficiencies that will generate more money for space without increasing the defense budget.