Deployment of neutron version of the Lance warhead and 8-inch artillery projectile would not begin until late 1979, even if President Carter give his approval next month for production an Congress voted the necessary funds, according to testimony given Congress last March.
Gen. Alfred D. Starbird assistant administrator for national security of the Energy Research and Development Administration which build the nuclear weapons told a House Appropriations Subcommittee on March 17. "We will actually start in two years delivering . . . the Lance enchanced radiation missile."
In congressional testimony a year earlier. Starbird said final testing of the neutron version of the 8-inch artillery shell would occur in fiscal 1978, which begins Oct. 1. Full scale production of that shell, he said was planned to begin in October 1979.
An underground nuclear explosion conducted by Erda at its test site 65 northwest of Los Vegas earlier this year was to test a design version of the Lance neutron warhead, according to congressional sources.
At least one more Lance test is expected, an administration source said, before a final production model is approved by ERDA.
Deployment of a second generation of tactical nuclear weapons to replace those now in Europe that were first produced in the 1950s has been a long time coming.
The Pentagon and ERDA began in the mid-1960s to develop nuclear Lance warheads as a replacement for the Honest John and Sergeant missiles that delivered 10 kilotons or more - a blast so large it almost equals the 14-kiloton Hiroshima bomb.
Among the early development warheads for the Lance was one designed the produce enhanced neutron radiation rather than blast and heat as the main enemy-killing effect.
Designated the W-63, it was designed at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California where Harold Brown, now Defense Secretary, was one director.
Brown and Herbert York, a nuclear physicist who consults with the Pentagon on weapons systems, worked on the neutron bomb principle when they both were at Livermore in the late 1950s.
The enhanced radiation W-63 Lance warhead was dropped by the Army in the late 1960s because of "technical problems", according to a congressional source. The "problem" reportedly was failure of the weapon to produce enough radiation to guarantee to the satisfaction of Army officers that it would promptly kill or incapacitate enemy personnel in tanks in the target area.
Instead of the W-63, the Army took a nuclear Lance war head that delivered from less to a kiloton to over 30 kilotons in primarily blast and thermal effects.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Pentagon's tactiful nuclear artillery was criticized for its short range of about 10 miles.
Because of that range, North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, such as the West Germans required the 8-inch and 155-millimeter guns with nuclear rounds to be stationed close to the border.
To meet that complaint, the Pentagon got ERDA to increase the artillery range for the two shells by adding a rocker booster.
Congress in 1971 refused to fund the new projectiles, saying at a almost $1 billion they were too costly. At the same time, some legislators noted that the artillery shells and other tactical weapons in Europe were vulnerable to terrorists theft or sabotage.
By 1973 the Pentagon and ERDA were back with a new program to replace the 8-inch and 155-millimeter nuclear rounds with shells that contained safety devices. One prevented that shells from being armed without a special code and another pemitted their inner workings to be destroyed in case they were stolen.
In 1974 Congress again turned down the new nuclear rounds. In so doing, it told the Pentagon to come up with something new if it wanted to replace the already deployed weapons.
In January, 1975, Livermore undertook development of the enhanced radiation 8-inch artillery prohectile. Thanks to a neutron warhead, designed for the Sprint anti-ballistic missile system, the technolocy for enhancing neutron production in a war-head had progressed since the failure of the W-63, years earlier.
The 8-inch neuton warhead was developed so rapidly that in 1976 ERDA decided it would go back to creating a neutron warhead for the final production run of Lance warheads.
In August, 1976, ERDA told Sen. John O. Pastore (D-R.I) then chairman of the Joint Atomic Energy Committee that it planned to go ahead with production of a limited number of neutron Lance warheads with funding to go into the fiscal 1978 budget.
President Ford approved that production and the neutron 8-inch shell in November 1976, but his decision was kept secret.
Though material on the new weapons was included in briefing books prepared for the Carter administration neither the President nor his top advisers learned of the matter until it was described in new stories last month.
Carter plans to make his own decision on whether to produce the neutron weapons after he receives a Pentagon-ERDA recommendation set for Aug. 15.
Meanwhile the President has asked Congress to approve fund for the weapon production contained in the fiscal 1978 public works money bill. The Senate will resume debate on that money next week when it returns from its July 4 recess.