Although it is too early to determine the impact of a merger on the 5,200 area employees of Contel Corp. and GTE Corp, Contel officials said yesterday that they are confident that their crown jewel will not lose its luster.

"I'm not worried about our technology center," said Stuart Johnson, president of Contel's Federal Systems Sector. The Chantilly-based operation has about 2,750 employees and houses the Contel Technology Center, a research and development facility that examines different technologies to determine which ones could be most valuable to the corporation and its customers.

"It's established its worth as a stand-alone entity," Johnson said. "I'm confident that its knowledge and expertise will be transferable to the new company."

The center is working in such key areas as software technology, communications technology, computer network management and artificial intelligence.

The center has contributed significantly to the success of Contel's Federal Systems Sector, which according to Johnson, has won more than half of the contracts on which, it has bid. The division recently won a 10-year, $79 million contract to provide an automated weather distribution system to the Air Force, and its revenue has grown to nearly $700 million from $250 million in the last three years.

Other area Contel operations include the Contel Service Corp.'s eastern region headquarters at Dulles International Airport, its telephone operations in Woodbridge and Manassas, Contel ASC -- a satellite communications company in Rockville -- and the government relations group in Washington.

A GTE spokesman said the company does not have an area facility comparable to the technology center. GTE handles government business through its government systems division, which has its headquarters in Waltham, Mass., but has 580 employees in three area offices. GTE's other local operations include McLean-based GTE SpaceNet Corp., its Sylvania lighting division in Springfield and a government affairs division in Washington.

Although it is unclear how the companies plan to mesh their research and development capabilities, Contel officials were heartened yesterday when James Johnson, GTE's chairman and chief executive, said both companies have significant research activities that will make the combined entity an industry leader in applied technology.

"From the tech center standpoint, I think the merger means that where the two companies have overlapping interests, we will use our increased strengths. Where we have a unique interest, we will continue {our own} development in those areas," said Alan Salisbury, president of the Contel technology center.