US military rewrites master plan

Wednesday, April 17th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ To better manage homeland defense, the Pentagon is changing the way it assigns war-fighting responsibilities at home and around the world, defense officials announced Wednesday.

``Today, our country faces an era of the unexpected,'' Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in announcing a realignment of the military's command structure. ``We must be ready to win today's global war on terror, but, at the same time, prepare for other surprises and uncertainties that we must will most certainly face in the 21st century.''

The change essentially sets up a new command _ called Northern Command _ that will begin operating on Oct. 1. It is expected to be headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Rumsfeld said in a press conference with Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It will be responsible for defense of U.S. territory, including the waters off the East and West coasts. Under the existing command arrangement set up after World War II, responsibility for U.S. territory was shared to by numerous commands.

Until the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, the military had never been organized to defend against threats emanating from inside the country.

President Bush is expected to nominate Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart as the first commander of Northern Command.

The new approach is supposed to streamline a command structure that is complex and, in many respects, rooted in a Cold War-era approach to fighting standing armies, air forces and navies in predictable parts of the world.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, for example, is in charge of air defense of the United States and Canada. That will not change. The Northern Command commander will also head NORAD.

In the new plan, Northern Command will have overall responsibility within the military for homeland defense. On the civilian side, it will coordinate with the White House's Office of Homeland Defense.

``It will help us keep the edge we need to quickly adapt to the uncertainties that lie ahead,'' Myers said.

A commander in chief of a major command takes presidential orders from the secretary of defense through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The 1986 law that created this system also required that the command structure be reviewed at least every two years. The last time changes were made was in 1999 under then-Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Among other changes:

_The commander of European Command, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, will become responsible for managing military-to-military relations with Russia, except for the Far East military districts. European Command will remain in charge of all U.S. forces in Europe, as well as parts of Africa and the Middle East.

_Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, will add Antarctica to its geographic area of responsibility, although that does not involve military operations. Pacific Command also will manage military-to-military relations with the Far East military districts of Russia.

The Pentagon is considering consolidating all or parts of two U.S.-based commands: Space Command, which defends U.S. military interests in space, and Strategic Command, which is responsible for planning and targeting for strategic nuclear forces.