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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pentagon Writes New Master Plan for Defense

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon is rewriting its master plan for assigning war-fighting responsibilities at home and around the world in the hope of better managing defense of the U.S. homeland.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned to announce the changes at a Pentagon news conference Wednesday.

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.

As the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11 showed, the United States faces unconventional threats from unpredictable sources, and former adversaries like Russia are now partners in the war on terrorism.

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

A new command, called Northern Command, will begin operating Oct. 1. It will be responsible for defense of U.S. territory, including the waters off the East and West coasts, said officials who discussed some details of the plan Tuesday on condition of anonymity. U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to nominate Air Force General Ralph Eberhart as the first commander of Northern Command.

Under the existing arrangement for defense of U.S. territory, responsibility is shared by numerous commands.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) 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.

Joint Forces Command, based at Norfolk, Virginia, which has both functional and geographic responsibilities, will continue to be responsible for joint-service training and combat experimentation.

But it will lose its mission of defending the North Atlantic and its role in supporting civilian federal agencies in responding to an attack or accident involving a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon. Northern Command will take the latter responsibility, officials said.

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

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.

Without revealing any details of the new command structure, Rumsfeld said Monday that General Richard Myers, who as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a key architect of the plan, told him it represented the most significant change in command structure he has seen in his 37-year military career.

"It will be a plan which will restructure and streamline a number of aspects of the military command which we believe will better fit it for the challenges of the 21st century," Rumsfeld said.