The Justice Department yesterday approved a proposal by the U.S. machine tool industry to form a joint research group to study technologically advanced machine tool systems.

The proposed joint research project -- to be built around a state-of-the-art machine shop in Northeast Washington -- would not violate federal antitrust laws, the Justice Department said.

The machine tool partnership could potentially facilitate new and intensified research efforts in the domestic machine tool industry, which is rapidly losing business to sophisticated foreign competition, said J. Paul McGrath, the Justice Department official who heads the antitrust division.

The joint machine tool research project would be similar to a computer industry research venture that has already been approved by the Justice Department and a computer software joint research venture that was proposed last week by a number of aerospace companies. The computer research venture, called Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corp., has already set up shop in Texas under the direction of Bobby Inman, retired admiral and former head of the National Security Agency.

The general partner of the proposed machine tool partnership would be DCTech Research Centers Inc., a new multimillion dollar high-tech manufacturing research and production center opened a few months ago by O. Roy Chalk, the former owner of the D.C. Transit System.

DCTech plans to contract out machine tool research and development projects to universities, independent research organizations, machine tool manufacturers and itself, the Justice Department said.

An R&D limited partnership is eligible for a 25 percent tax credit under the 1981 federal tax law, which allows investors to write off their investment in R&D activities.

The program is meant to encourage industries to work together on innovative industrial technology and manufacturing on a scale competitive with those abroad, said Fred Haynes, a Commerce Department official in charge of encouraging the research partnerships.