The United States NATO allies in Europe perceive the neutron bomb as a useful deterrent to the threat of invation by Warsaw Pact forces and - prided President Carter approves - hope to incorporate the weapon into the Allied arsenal 18 months after production begins, NATO sources say.
In the event of an attack, neutron bombs could wipe out enemy troop concentrations with minimal danger to Allied civilians or territory," one official said.
Alliance source said the 7,000 tactical nuclear weapons now deplyed in Europe are "far more primitive" and cannot be controlled as precisely as neutron bombs launched from landbased missiles or fired by artillery.
"What we have in the field now are "dirty" bombs designed in the 1950s and 1960s," said another NATO military expert."We can't control the effects from the blast and radiation as well as with the neutron."
The massive dose of radiation that emanates from the relatively small explosion of a neutron bomb "could be limited to a radius of 1,000 yards and to as short a time frame as 24 hours," on NATO source said.
The pinpoint accuracy of the neutron bomb appeals especially to West German defense officials, whose country would most likely bear the brunt of any attack by Warsaw Pact forces.
Some NATO tactical nuclear missiles along the French-West German border have only short-range capability and would land on West German soil when fired, causing inestimable civilian casualties property damage.
West German sources said neutron bombs would obviously appear "the better alternative" if they could eliminate enemy forces isolated from cities in West Germany.
"We don't see what the fuss is all about," remarked one official.
Gen. Alexander Haig, the NATO commander also said he was surprised by civilian objections to development of the neutron bomb and added that the weapon is needed "to modernize NATO's armor and give the alliance greater flexibility.
Over the past decade, the NATO alliance has focused on tactical nuclear weapons as the prime means of repelling a Soviet attack. The Warsaw Pact notions hold a decided edge in conventional arms and troops.
But recently, senior NATO officals have said that both sides had enlarged their tactical nuclear forces to a point of rough parity, implying that an effort should be made to regain a strategic lead over the Soviets.
NATO sources said that, in principle, the deployment of neutron bombs should not complicate thestrategic arms limitation talks or East-West negotiations to reduce troop levels in Central Europe.
"The neutron bomb has nothing to do with SALT as such but of course there is always a psychological effect, observed one NATO official.
While future deployment of the neutron bombs await a decision by President Carter, NATO officials privately concede that once production starts, installing warheads in Europe would occur within 18 months.
Sources said that neutron weapons could be fitted to surface-to surface "Lance" missiles, with a range of 50 to 75 miles, or used in eight-inch artillery shells.
NATO officials deny that "clean" nuclear warheads like neutron bombs make atomic warfare more likely. They point out that, as with all NATO nuclear weapons, the sole responsibility for use would rest with the U.S. president.
"The prime reason for our nuclear force still remains one of the dissausions," a NATO offical said.
NATO countries are also watching the development of the inverse of neutron technology - high-blast bombs that release little or no radioactive fallout. Such weapons would be used to destroy enemy bases and equipment without contaminating nearby populations with radioactivity.
NATO officials say a wide range of weapons in the alliance inventory enhances the "forces of deterrence."