The Air Force yesterday announced a reorganization designed to help the United States seize the high ground of space in both peace and war.
Gen. Lew Allen Jr., winding up a four-year tour as Air Force chief of staff, said the new Space Command will be located in Colorado Springs, Colo., with the job initially of coordinating Air Force activities in outer space.
The Space Command, as the Air Force envisions it, will grow from a modest staff of about 200 people into a larger outfit that will include representatives of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The idea is to exploit the military potential of outer space in a more coordinated way.
Rep. Ken Kramer (R-Colo.) of Colorado Springs, who pushed for the change, predicted the reorganization will be regarded in the long run as the move that turned national nuclear strategy away from mutual destruction to "one that will give us the capability to defend ourselves against nuclear attack from space." He said he foresees the day satellite-based lasers and energy beams will be able to burn up attacking warheads.
Allen, in what was his first and is expected to be his last Pentagon press conference as the Air Force's top officer, shied away from the suggestion that the reorganization amounted to gearing up for combat in space. Instead, he stressed the objectives of better management and sharper focus on military space activities.
In response to questions, the four-star general termed "remarkable" the recent Soviet drill in which land, sea and antiballistic missiles were test-fired, and an antisatellite weapon was launched. The armed forces of both the Soviet Union and the United States are increasingly using outer space, raising the possibility that each will try to blind or destroy the other's satellites at the outset of a war.
U.S. forces rely heavily on satellites to keep track of Soviet military activities, to communicate from one side of the world to the other, to tell soldiers on the ground and ships at sea where they are located and to eavesdrop on radio traffic and telemetry. Allen said the military will increase its reliance on space in the future.
The United States is working on an antisatellite weapon that would be taken aloft by an F15 fighter plane and launched toward the satellite. The weapon, shaped like a tomato can, would home in on the heat of the target. The "tomato can" would poke out umbrella-like arms just before smashing into the satellite, relying on the collision, rather than explosives, for destruction.
The Soviets seem to be testing a hunter-killer satellite that edges up to its target and then explodes, according to space specialists.
Allen said that by Sept. 1, 200 people will have been transferred from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to the Space Command, along with the Aerospace Defense staff now in Colorado Springs. Allen predicted that the Space Command will have multiservice representation "within a year."
The Air Force said it will establish a Space Technology Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., to oversee its weapons laboratory there; the propulsion laboratory at Edwards AFB, Calif., and the geophysics laboratory at Hanscom AFB, Mass.
Guidance issued recently to the armed services by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger signified that the administration does not want to risk losing the high ground of outer space to the Soviet Union. Said the guidance for planning fiscal 1984 through 1988 military budgets:
"Development and deployment of a capability to defend space assets is required, as is the capability to deny the enemy the use of his space systems that are harmful to our efforts during conflicts."
The technological preparations should include "prototype development of space-based weapon systems so that we will be prepared to deploy full-developed and operationally ready systems should their use prove to be in our national interest . . . ."