WASHINGTON - Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will propose today a sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon's space programs, sharply elevating the importance of outer space in the nation's military strategy, defense officials said yesterday.
The proposal will be the first step toward making outer space a larger focus of Pentagon spending and is intended to emphasize the importance the Bush administration places on developing defensive weapons systems for outer space, defense officials said.
In his first major policy announcement, Rumsfeld will call for the creation of a Pentagon post, staffed by a four-star officer, to serve as an advocate for what could become a new space force.
"There is a symbolic importance to making this announcement early," a Pentagon official said. "This demonstrates how important Rumsfeld considers space to our future military operations."
Space programs account for $8 billion of the Pentagon's $310 billion budget and are splintered among Pentagon offices. The Pentagon spends billions of additional dollars in conjunction with the CIA on secret space surveillance programs, including a network of spy satellites. The budgets of those programs are classified.
Consolidating and reorganizing the space programs will give them a higher profile in the sprawling Pentagon bureaucracy and make it easier for them to compete for defense dollars, aides to Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld and, to a lesser degree, President Bush have publicly expressed their interest in developing costly and complicated space weapons systems, including lasers capable of shooting down ballistic missiles from high above the earth and satellites designed to attack other satellites.
"In space, we'll protect our network of satellites essential to the flow of our commerce and the defense of our common interests," Bush said in his first major speech on military policy in February. "All of this requires great effort and new spending."
Plans could also include building a space plane capable of transporting weapons rapidly around the globe or spying on other countries from space, as has been recommended by a panel of experts that is reviewing military policy for Rumsfeld. NASA canceled funding for such a plane, known as the X-33, this year because of cost overruns and delays.
But any efforts by the Bush administration to build such weapons are certain to be opposed by China, Russia and other European nations, and by arms control advocates who warn against a new arms race in space.
"I think weaponizing space would be a badly premature idea," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit policy group. "It may be inevitable. It may be impossible to keep space a sanctuary. But the United States has no interest in breaking that taboo."
Rumsfeld's proposal will be the first of several military policy announcements by the Bush administration that are expected to culminate in the unveiling next month of a detailed Pentagon budget plan for the fiscal year that will begin in October.
Those announcements will reflect the work of some of the two dozen panels appointed by Rumsfeld to study ways of modernizing the armed forces. Among the many ideas being considered by those panels are proposals to shrink or reorganize the Army, to expand the use of long-range bombers and unmanned aircraft, and to overhaul the policy of preparing to fight two major regional wars almost simultaneously.