SPACECOM chief: Space must be top national priority
Posted: April 9, 2001

  DSP art
An artist's concept of a Defense Support Program early-warning missile detection satellite. Photo: USAF
American military involvement in space will become more critical to national security in coming years, said U.S. Space Command's top officer.

"Most anyone involved in military operations, whether military or civilian, would tell you space is becoming increasingly important," said Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, SPACECOM commander in chief.

U.S. Space Command, headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., coordinates the use of U.S. military and civilian space assets to support, enhance and control space operations and computer-network defensive and offensive missions. It is one of the nine unified commands in the Department of Defense that have operational control of U.S. combat forces.

Satellite imagery, missile warning and targeting information that space-based systems provide have proven their military worth to U.S. defense planners throughout the past decade, Eberhart said. That data, for instance, contributed to victory during Operation Desert Storm and the 1999 Kosovo air campaign.

"Look back to how we leveraged our space assets in Desert Storm, compare that to Kosovo -- or how we can leverage them even today as we have made advancements since Kosovo -- and I think it is obvious how important and how much we rely on capabilities that are resident in our information that moves through space," he said.

Sometime in April, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is expected to provide his formal response to recommendations in a report issued Jan. 11 by the Commission to Assess U.S. National Security Space Management and Organization. Prior to his nomination to be secretary, Rumsfeld chaired the commission, which, among other things, sought to determine if any changes need to be made to improve the United States' national security posture and capabilities in space.

Six months of research and interviews with the country's leading space experts, including Eberhart, convinced the commission that space should become a top national security priority.

  GPS 2R
An artist's concept of a Global Positioning System military navigation satellite orbiting Earth. Photo: Lockheed Martin
"We'd be kidding ourselves if we said we couldn't do it better, (and) our goal ought to be to do it better tomorrow," Eberhart said.

For example, DOD space specialists could make more effective use of available communications bandwidth, and become better at processing and disseminating information "to get inside the enemy's decision-cycle," he said.

"We gather data," Eberhart said. "How can we change that data to information which can lead to decisions? That is the real key. We're working hard, we have some wonderful people out there, and we have a great partnership with industry, with commercial suppliers."

A Rumsfeld space commission news release called the likelihood of future conflict in space "a virtual certainty." Because of this, the commission noted, the United States should take immediate steps to develop superior space capabilities.

Some critics say the United States will not need such enhanced capabilities for 25 years or more, when a peer may arise to challenge America militarily in space. Other critics say there should be no military use of space, but Eberhart said he believes this has already occurred.

"We have, in fact, militarized space," he said. "We use space assets, space information for military applications. "We've been doing that for decades. The trend is increasing, not just the United States of America, but also other countries, friends, and possible foes.

"So, I think we've crossed that bridge," he said.