The Army is stepping up its merchandising campaign in behalf of its controversial neutron weapons.
For one thing the enchanced radiation weapons, popularly and inaccurately (to the Pentagon's exasperation) called neutron bombs, have been officially renamed at the Reduced Blast/Enchanced Radiation Warheads.
Also, in "spotlight," a Department of the Army publication for senior military commanders, an article entitled "The Neutron Bomb," describes the new weapon as a device for "defending NATO without destroying the very countries we are fighting to defend."
The administration is having trouble getting the NATO allies to accept deployment of neutron weapons on their territory. President Carter has delayed his expected production decision until the NATO countries reach a "consensus" that publicly supports deployment.
The publication, which is being reprinted in U.S. Army newspapers in Europe, was designed to combat news accounts which, it says, "have protrayed the development of the Reduced Blast/Enchanced Radiation Warhead . . . as having given birth to an insidious new killer device."
Instead, the Army article asserts, it "is nothing sinister. It is simply an improved version of theater nuclear warheads that have been in the Army's inventory for years."
To illustrate and emphasize the point, the publication includes two illustrations which purport to compare the effects of the present "fission weapon" and the proposed "enchanced radiation weapon" (for reason it is not called by its new RB/ER designation).
The fission weapon destroys tanks by blast and kills troops with radiation, but also lays waste to the neighboring town through thermal effects. Even the crops in the fields are burned out.
The neutron weapon, howere, incapaditates crews and troops through lethal radiation but leaves the town standing intact. Even the crops remain untouched in the fields.
What is missing is any indication that there are dangerous radiation levels that would blanket the town in the case of both weapons - though at higher levels with neutron.
With a two-kiloton neutron blast, for example radiation levels that would kill half those exposed within 30 days would be delivered to exposed individuals in the town in the army's illustration - at least one-quarter or a mile beyond the indicated lethal radiation area.
In the effort to promote the virtues of the neutron weapons, the Army publication suggests it may be used to deliver radiation to specific targets without destroyed them - a "death ray" characteristic Pentagon officials once argued with when stories on the neutron weapons first appeared.
For example, at one point it says the neutron weapons could be used on a "structure which must not be damaged [bridge, railyard, etc.] . . . The Remagen Bridge [which crosses the Rhine River Germany] is a typical example of where blast damage [in World War II] would have been adverse to friendly forces, future operations."
The Pentagon adopted the new name for the neutron weapon, the RB/ER designation, to emphasize the less-destructive characteristics it likes to promote. The suggestion for the change, according to administration officials, came in a classified cable last summer from U.S. Ambassador to NATO W. Tapley Bennett, who is based in Brussels, where neutron weapons are considered controversial.