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Critic Calls Early SDI Deployment 'Folly'

January 21, 1987|JOSH GETLIN | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Two prominent Senate critics of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative lashed out Tuesday at any move by the Administration to push for early deployment of the program, also known as "Star Wars."

Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.), speaking at a news conference, said quick implementation of the program would be "absolute folly" and "nonsense," adding that the laser-beam weapons needed for an effective space-based defense are years away from development.

"An early SDI program would not only be irresponsible but dangerous for the nation," Johnston said. "It's clear that this plan . . . is a desperate attempt to bolster the sagging support for SDI and (is) an ideological substitute for science."

Reacting to Meese

SDI critics, who included Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) and members of the Union of Concerned Scientists, were reacting to Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III's comments last week that Reagan should deploy the first stage of the "Star Wars" program soon so that it could not be undone by future administrations.

Proxmire noted that similar comments have been made by Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger and said Reagan has been told by defense advisers that a phase of the controversial "Star Wars" program could be deployed as early as 1994.

The "Star Wars" program now receives several billions of dollars a year for research and development. Until recently, Reagan and other Administration spokesmen had cautioned that premature deployment could siphon off funds for major research. The White House has not said whether a push for early deployment will be made.

More Than $1 Trillion

The cost of a full "Star Wars" program, including laser-beam weapons providing a space-based "shield" from nuclear attack, is estimated at more than $1 trillion, according to several previous secretaries of defense who were asked by a Senate subcommittee to study the proposal. Full deployment would occur sometime in the 21st Century.

Proxmire charged that the Administration may push for an earlier implementation of SDI--and seek to spend billions of dollars on "Star Wars"-related jobs, construction and research--to create a political and economic lobby for the program.

"If you spend $200 (million) to $300 million now on a "Star Wars"-related project, that can make a big difference to the economy of a city," he said. "That's exactly what they (Administration officials) have in mind."

'Devastating Impact'

Kurt Gottfried, a board member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said a premature deployment of "Star Wars" technology would have a "devastating impact" on arms control and would cause an immediate escalation of the arms race.

He said the only "Stars Wars"-type weapons that could be launched into space anytime soon--such as satellites, orbiting space sensors and chemical, heat-seeking rockets--would not adequately protect American cities and military installations from a nuclear attack.

These "primitive" space weapons could be thwarted by Soviet technology, Gottfried said, and, as a result, the United States would be locked into a costly SDI program that would be "virtually obsolete at birth."

Vote Prediction

Proxmire and Johnston, who sit on a Senate subcommittee that reviews the Reagan Administration's SDI budget requests, predicted that there are enough votes in the Democratic-controlled Congress to defeat any move for early implementation of SDI.

Still, they expressed concern that the Administration would mount a major public relations offensive on behalf of "Star Wars" in the coming months.

"We're taking this possibility very seriously," Proxmire said. "There's no question that the White House would like to move on this program sooner rather than later."

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