A Buck-Rogers-type death ray, satellites silently fighting thousands of miles above the earth, and warheads weaving their way to targets to foil the defenders were listed by the Pentagon yesterday as possible weapons for a future war.
The picture was painted by Malcolm R. Currie in his final report to the public as director of military research at the Pentagon - an activity that will cost $12 billion in fiscal 1978 if President Carter and Congress approve the budget they inherited from the Ford administration.
That amount of money, Currie said in his report, will be needed to keep the United States safely ahead of the Soviet Union in such far-out weapons that might tilt the balance in some future war.
Though Currie's final report will be regarded as a "worse case" possibility in many quarters, it bears the imprimatur of the Defense Department and thus is a Ford administration policy document as well as one scientist's opinion of what weapons be viewed with concern.
Currie's reference to some unspecified type of death ray came after he declared: "We must be concerned with Soviet activities in the area of directed-energy weapons. We know few details of the Soviet programs, but the scope and degree of commitment of their interests in these weapons of the future is quite large as judge by their investments in physical plant for research and development."
After asserting that the Soviets stepped up their research on concentrated beams of light known as high-energy lasers between 1971 and 1975, Currie said, "There are indictators which point to Soviet interests in particle beam technology which may have advanced weapon applications."
He also asserted that the Soviet Union "is seizing a new iniative and creating the prospect of a new dimension of military conflicts - war in space." And he warned that "if the Soviet Union chooses to continue along the path they appear to be taking, they will find it a dangerous one."
Currie also said that "perhaps the most portentous Soviet activity in space" is the resumption of the effort to experiment with satellites for hunting and killing other satellites in space.
"The demonstrations of a Soviet anti-satellite weapon may indicate that space is no longer a sanctuary for us," Currie asserted. He recommended that the United States find a way to patrol outer space better and to give U.S. satellites more protection against laser beams and radiation.
As a first step, Currie recommended that the United States improve radar so space vehicles could be tracked up to 20,000 miles instead of the current 3,000.
For the longer term, the former research director recommended that the United States build a hunter satellite that would detect other satellites in space by the heat they give off. The first such U.S. hunter satellite would be launched in 1981 under the Currie plan.
He said these and other steps were needed "to prevent the Soviets from gaining a significant military advantage through a space encounter."
Another space-age program that would get additional money if the Currie research budget was adopted is maneuvering warheads. They zig and zag as they fly toward their targets to make them harder to track and destroy. The Navy is developing such a warhead, called the Mark 500 Evader, for its submarine missiles.