WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to ban testing of anti-satellite weapons against objects in space--including trials scheduled later this year by the Reagan Administration--unless the Soviet Union resumes such tests.
The measure, sponsored by California Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Colton) and opposed by President Reagan, was adopted by a vote of 229 to 193. It was attached to a bill authorizing the Pentagon to spend $292 billion during fiscal 1986, which begins Oct. 1.
Brown's amendment was identical to a measure adopted by the House last year but differed sharply from this year's Senate-passed measure, which would permit the President to conduct an unlimited number of anti-satellite (ASAT) tests if he certifies to Congress that he is trying to negotiate a limit on the weapons with the Soviet Union. The differences must be worked out by a House-Senate conference.
Faced with a similar disparity between the House and Senate versions last year, Congress eventually imposed a ban on testing until March 1, 1985, after which the Administration was permitted to conduct up to three ASAT tests against an object in space. As a result, the military was expected to begin testing in late July.
The system to be tested is a miniature homing vehicle, shaped like a tin can, that is launched from an F-15 aircraft. For testing purposes, it will be aimed at a balloon carrying an infrared transmitter.
Congressional Republicans, who opposed the testing moratorium, predicted the Senate version will prevail again this year, allowing the Administration to conduct the scheduled tests this year and additional tests in fiscal 1986.
'Tacit Arms Control'
Democrats, meanwhile, argued for the ban on grounds that U.S. testing would only encourage the Soviets to begin developing a similar system. Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) noted the Soviets have conducted no tests during the self-imposed U.S. moratorium--a situation he described as "tacit arms control."
"If we drive forward with our system, the Soviets are going to do the same thing," said Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.).
But the President's supporters argued exactly the opposite, saying that without U.S. testing the Soviets will have no incentive to agree to a treaty that would limit ASAT development. Anti-satellite weapons are one of the subjects of current U.S.-Soviet arms talks in Geneva.
"If we want results in Geneva, I don't think we can make statements like, 'You go ahead and we'll watch you,' " said Rep. Ken Kramer (R-Colo.). "If you give up all your marbles before you go to the marble game, you give up any chance of winning the marble game."
Rep. Jim Courter (R-N.J.) added: "If deterrence works with other weapons, I wonder why deterrence does not work with ASAT weapons?"
Kramer said the Soviets have conducted at least nine successful ASAT tests in recent years. "The Soviets, all rhetoric to the contrary, have a total and complete monopoly on anti-satellite capability," he said.
House Republicans noted the Soviets currently have at least one operational ground-based ASAT system targeted on low-level American satellites--including those used by the United States for intelligence and monitoring Soviet compliance with existing arms control agreements.
'Out of Stone Age'
But the Soviet system is "out of the Stone Age . . . as nearly useless as a weapon can be," AuCoin responded. Moscow's system, he added, has failed all tests of its heat-seeking capability.
Dicks and Brown also argued against development of an ASAT system on grounds that the cost has escalated dramatically since the project was conceived. The estimated total cost has risen from $1.5 billion in 1982 to $4.1 billion this year.
The House bill includes $101 million for ASAT development in the current year. By voice vote, the House agreed to an amendment by Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) that would add $20 million for a study aimed at improving the survivability of satellites.
The House also voted, 364 to 51, for an amendment by Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) authorizing military personnel to assist drug enforcement officials in searches, seizures and arrests outside the United States. In 1977, Bennett's son died from drug abuse.
Likewise, the House voted, 333 to 71, for a proposal by Rep. C. W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) that would allow the Defense Department to give counterintelligence polygraph tests to all applicants for the highest security clearance. Young indicated his proposal was inspired by the John A. Walker spy case.
"The people of America are tired of paying for our national defense effort only to see it bought or stolen by the Soviet Union and contributed to their national security efforts," Young said.
Opponents argued that the polygraph is not a reliable tool. "If this polygraph thing was worth a cotton-picking thing, every wife in this place would buy one," said Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.).