- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

In his news conference on Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took a major step toward incorporating the promising spaced-based technologies in President Bushs multi-layered anti-missile defense system and revealed that the Air Force would become the paramount service overseeing space programs, including spy satellite operations. He announced he would soon name an Air Force four-star general to be the Pentagons principal advocate for space programs within the United States Space Command. In effect, the Air Force would be in charge of all planning, organizing, training and acquisition functions for what the defense secretary envisions to be a revitalized space mission. Moreover, designating an undersecretary of the Air Force as the chief acquisition officer for space operations will surely make it easier for the Space Command to, well, command a greater share of the Pentagons resources.

To be sure, during the press conference Mr. Rumsfeld, responding to persistent questions from reporters, insisted that his proposals involving the consolidation and reorganization of the military´s space programs had "nothing to do" with any intention to eventually militarize space. However, the consolidation is not occurring in a vacuum. After all, prior to being named defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld served as chairman of the congressionally authorized Space Commission, which was charged with studying military issues in space and which issued its report in January. The report warned that the United States had become "an attractive candidate for a space Pearl Harbor," concluding that eventual warfare in space was a "virtual certainty." Noting that "every medium land, air and sea has seen conflict," the commission´s report asserted, "Reality indicates that space will be no different." An important recommendation of the commission was for the U.S. military to invest heavily in research and development of military space technologies. An important purpose of the briefing was to emphasize how extensive the consultations over missile defense would be with Russia, China and NATO allies and Mr. Rumsfeld seemed to be more forthcoming in his written report to Congress.

Space offers some of the most attractive options enabling the United States to destroy ballistic missiles and their warheads at various stages of their flight. In the long term, space-based lasers show great promise. In the near term, the Brilliant Pebbles program, which the Clinton administration canceled, could indeed, should be resurrected.

If effectiveness is the goal of ballistic-missile defense, then space must play an important role. Messrs. Bush and Rumsfeld certainly understand this. And that represents a very important first step.

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