Iran plans to cut drastically the scope of a huge radar program code-named "Seek Sentry" that would have cost the country about $32 billion and drained Iran's already severely stretched technical manpower, according to informed sources here.
The program called for radar installations on 41 mountaintops in Iran and would have taken 12 to 15 years to complete. The Iranian War Ministry received bids from three American companies to build a radar prototype for the project, but has not awarded a contract.
The shah of Iran now plans to cut the program by 60 to 70 per cent and put up only 12 to 16 radar installations, the sources said. These he wants to complement with seven to nine of the latest radar-equipped Boeing aircraft that have been recommended for use in NATO countries.
The shah is expected to discuss procurement of this plane, called the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System), with the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. George S. Brown, who is to meet with him Monday during a three-day visit to Iran.
The new plan would afford mobility and permit Iranian radar coverage of the Persian Gulf, the sources said.
U.S. military advisers have been questioning the size of Seek Sentry since it was convinced about three years ago. They believed the vast program would put such a strain on Iran's resources that it could become a hugh boondoggle, sources said.
Noting recent NATO arguments against fixed radar installations, officials also said the Iranian radars "would stick up like sore thumbs" and would be difficult to defend.
The Seek Sentry project was promoted in its planning stages by retired Col. Richard Hallock, a former adviser to both the Iranian and U.S. governments who was repudiated by Iran in a letter sent Jan. 8 from Vice Minister of War Gen. Hassan Toufanian to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumseld.
Hallock, a strong critic of another secret electronic surveillance project codenamed "IBEX", was sent to Iran in 1973 by then Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger to look into the arms sale program. A Senate subcommittee reported in August that Hallock "established a close relationship" with the Iranian government. Later he withdrew as Schlesinger's representative and received a multimillion-dollar consulting contract from Iran.
While the Seek Sentry project was being promoted and then reconsidered, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of new radar equipment has been gathering dust in the southern Iran port area. Iran purchased the equipment from Westinghouse Electric Corp. under a contract for installation of eight to ten radars in Iran, but the deal was canceled in favor of Seek Sentry. Aided by U.S. advisers, Iran is currently trying to come up with a plan to use this equipment.
Despite the sharp reduction in scope, Iran's radar program may still aggravate its present difficulties in absorbing sophisticated technology, some sources feel.
"The Iranians already have digestive problems," one source said referring to the influx of ultramodern weaponry.
The Iranian air force is currently a year behind schedule in building facilities and learning to operate and maintain the advanced F-14 Tomcat fighter planes ordered in 1974 from Grumman Corp. U.S. officials have expressed disappointment with the program, which they consider a key indicator of whether Iran can handle the latest military technology.
Deliveries of the 80 aircraft have been on schedule and are due to be completed by May of next year.
Besides the AWACS, the shah is expected to ask the United States to approve the sale to Iran of three other kinds of aircraft and more electronic gadgetry running into the billions of dollars during Gen. Brown's visit.
The Shah is seeking the purchase of 140 F-16 fighters in addition to the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] already ordered, 250 F-18-L fighters and more than 100 AMST wide-bodied transport planes. The latter two are still under development in the United States.