By Jeremy Singer, Space News Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — Three days before his term as U.S. Air Force secretary ended, Whitten Peters sharply criticized the advice of a blue-ribbon commission on military space efforts.
A member of the commission called the secretary’s remarks evidence the military does not understand the importance of space and does not know how to properly approach the issue.
The "Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization," also known as the space commission, was established in 1999 by Congress in response to concerns about the management of military space programs.
The commission issued its findings on Jan. 11.
The commission recommended the Air Force make its undersecretary the director of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to oversee acquisitions of classified and unclassified space programs. The report also recommended that the Air Force consolidate its various space offices into a single organization.
Recommendations for the Defense Department included creating a new undersecretary for space, intelligence and information, while eliminating the post of assistant secretary for command, control and communications.
Peters told reporters Jan. 17 he supported the commission’s finding that space needs to become a national priority. But he said many of the other recommendations could cause problems for the Air Force.
Giving the undersecretary of the Air Force the additional responsibility of running the NRO would overburden the official, Peters said. That official is already busy dealing with issues including recruiting, retention and medical care, he said. "It’s a killing workload, with many missions other than space," said Peters, who had served in the job from 1997 to 1999.
Peters said the panel’s recommendations for creating new positions and assigning new duties could lead to conflicts.
"I think they may have compounded our problems by creating two potentially different defense acquisition executives … and two service acquisition executives," he said. "It’s not good structure."
Peters found fault with the recommendation that the Air Force consolidate all space offices in one organization. Weapons systems are often reliant on space for information, and officials who deal with air and space need to increase their cooperation as they develop new systems and capabilities, he said. Segregating the space offices would not help with this problem, he said.
Robert Davis, a member of the space commission and president of RV Davis and Associates, a consulting firm here, disagreed. Peters’ assessment is typical of Air Force officials who are unwilling to devote more emphasis to space, he told Space News.
"It says that senior Air Force leadership still just doesn’t get it," said Davis, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for space from 1995 to 1997. "I don’t know what the secretary of the Army said when the Army’s air corps was being developed, but I don’t imagine it was much different that what Peters is saying today."
The undersecretary of the Air Force had served as the director of the NRO until 1988, so if the report’s recommendations are implemented, that official would not have an unmanageable workload, Davis said. The creation of a new undersecretary of defense would not take acquisition authority away from the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for acquisition, logistics and technology, he said.
The Air Force might have some initial difficulty getting used to a separate procurement authority for space, but Davis noted that the service already has separate program executive officers for air and space.
Davis also took issue with Peters’ comments that putting all Air Force space offices together would be disruptive. "He’s entitled to his position, but our commission had 13 former senior people from all the military services and Congress, and we all came to the conclusion that he’s wrong," Davis said.