Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ended speculation where the new homeland defense command will likely be located when he selected Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs as a preferred alternative. The question now is when the commander, expected to be NORAD head General Ralph Eberhart, will be named.
Announcing the selection Wednesday, Rumsfeld said the nation “faces an era of the unexpected” following terrorist attacks last September. The new command, called Northern Command, begins operating October 1. It will be responsible for defense of U.S. territory, including waters off both coasts. In addition to Peterson, the two other alternative locations under review are Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and Norfolk Navel Station in Virginia.
Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard told the Business Journal that Eberhart is the top candidate to head the command, which came about because of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The biggest news not coming out of last week’s 18th annual Space Symposium at the Broadmoor was where the command would be located, and who would command it.
Even as Eberhart spoke at the symposium last week, stories were circulating he would be named to the new command, but Eberhart denied knowing any information about where the Northern Command would be placed. A NORAD spokesperson also refused to comment.
However, word coming from Sen. Wayne Allard’s office is that Eberhart is the top candidate.
“Rumors are rampant in Washington,” Allard told the Business Journal. “There are rumors out there that North Command may be moved to the Colorado Springs area and in that context General Eberhart’s name has come up.”
“We’re expecting any day now an announcement from the Pentagon,” Allard said.
If the command were to come to Colorado Springs, Allard said, “It would be great news for Colorado.”
The Colorado Springs area is already home to five military bases and three commands, and one in three jobs is related to defense. If the new command is located in Colorado Springs, it could add as many as several hundred new jobs.
“If you look at the technical aspects of what I perceive North Command involves, the Springs area offers the most technically to support that kind of program than anyplace else in the country,” Allard said.
Speaking at the Space Symposium last week, Eberhart said discussion of a potential merger between the U.S. Space Command and the Strategic Command has taken place, but he did not elaborate.
“The unprecedented attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were a reminder to our nation of the need to detect, validate and warn of hostile aircraft or missile attack against North America,” Eberhart recently told a congressional panel. “NORAD’s mission now has clearly expanded to protect North America against a domestic airborne threat.”
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld took the first steps towards creating a Commander in Chief of Homeland Defense last fall when he placed Army General William F. Kenan, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., in charge of land and maritime defense of the continental United States, and put Eberhart in charge of domestic air defense. He also named Army Secretary Thomas White, DoD’s executive agent for Homeland Defense.
Testifying before a congressional panel, White emphasized the importance of homeland defense. “Put another way, homeland security is the No. 1 job for the United States military… it has our full attention.”
Eberhart currently wears three hats – he runs the Air Force Space Command, the U.S. Space Command, and NORAD. However, he will surrender the Air Force command to four-star General Lance Lord Friday, April 19, as part of the Pentagon’s plan to increase the importance of space programs.
Eberhart graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1968.