The controversial Rapid Deployment Force for responding to Persian Gulf emergencies is getting some new marching orders, military sources said yesterday.
One order calls for moving toward an independent command status at a quicker pace, while another order will put the fledgling outfit under an Army rather than Marine general.
To the consternation of some other Reagan administration executives, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger announced April 24 that it would take from three to five years for the RDF to advance from its stepchild status as a planning arm under the U.S. Readiness Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla.
At the end of that time, the RDF was supposed to become an independent command -- one that would not have to report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the Readiness Command, as is the case now.
Critics in the administration, including some in the White House, argued that the three- to five-year evolution was far too leisurely for an outfit that was supposed to rush troops to the most critical area of the world to the United States right now, the oil-rich Persian Gulf.
With no public announcement, the administration has scrapped the Weinberger timetable and told the RDF command at Tampa to get ready to assume an independent status as soon as possible.
Still undecided is where the RDF flag will fly once it becomes an independent command. There is sentiment within the military to put the new RDF close to the action, ideally some stable country in the Persian Gulf that would allow a U.S. presence.
Since no such country has been found, odds are that the RDF will stay at Tampa.
The second stage, putting the RDF under an Army general when its current commander, Marine Lt. Gen. P. X. Kelley, becomes assistant commandant of the corps in July, is expected to be announced soon.
Some members of Congress are likekly to decry the wheel-spinning that is bound to occur from the command change in the midst of the RDF's growing pains. President Carter established the RDF on March 1, 1980.
Informed military leaders said Kelley was not the victimn of any Army power play. Instead, Marine leaders requested his reassignment to fill the vacancy to be left in July by retirement of Gen. Kenneth McLennan.
Kelley's promotion to the four-star billet gives him the inside track to succeed Gen. Robert H. Barrow as Marine commandant in July, 1981.
The Marines are apt to get back command of the RDF from the Army after two years because there is support within the Joint Chiefs and the Pentagon civilian hierarchy to rotate the top job between the Army and Marine Corps every two years.
Advocates of this view contend that any Persian Gulf action would be largely a land war, with the first troops on the scene from Marine and Army units.
In contrast to the apparent unity on the Army-Marine rotational arrangement, the chiefs earlier split on which of the current unififed commanders should control the RDF. All the chiefs except Barrow recommended that this repsonsiblity go to the European command, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.
Barrow opted for the Pacific Command in Honolulu. Weinberger decided on making the RDF a separate, additional unified command.