President Carter is trying to negotiate a U.S.-Soviet ban on low-flying submarine missiles to lessen the risk of surprise nuclear attack, government officials said yesterday.
This proposed addition to the strategic arms limitation talks (SALT) treaty now in negotiation is expected to be discussed when administration officials meet with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko here late this week.
Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union currently is developing a "depressed trajectory" submarine missile, but could be flying test models as early as 1985, according to an intelligence estimate furnished to Congress.
The lower a missile flies on the way to its target, the faster it gets there and the less warning time it provides. Specialists say the difference between present-day submarine missiles and depressed trajectory ones is the difference between a baseball being thrown in from the outfield to home plate and one being hurled from the pitcher's mound.
Advocates of tonning depressed trajectory missiles, called DT, argue the technology must be over nipped in the bud so that both superpowers do not perfect it and shorten the fuse on nuclear war in the [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE.]
Rep. Bob Carr (D-Mich.) said in an interview that he and Rep. Thomas Downey (R-N.Y.) made this argument in a face-to-face meeting with Carter and his national security affairs adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in a meeting at the Oval Office last month.
Carr and Downey are members of the congressional advisory panel for SALT.
Brzezinski, according to Carr, asked at the meeting whether the Soviets would not demand a concession from the United States in exchange for forgoing depressed trajectory technology. But Carr said he and Downey replied that this was unlikely because the United States is well ahead of the Soviet Union in the art of such low-flying missiles.
Carter expressed great interest in the proposal, according to Carr, and directed his national security adviser to assess it. The concept apparently is ready to be discussed with Gromyko as a possible addition to the SALT treaty.
Carr said that such a mutual ban would make it easier for advocates of a new SALT treaty to point to provisions that "would definitely make the world a safer place." This is expecially vital, the congressman argued, now that hopes of limiting the flight tests of new missiles to slow their development have been all but dashed.
If the Soviets should put depressed trajectory missiles on their submarines and send the submarines within 100 miles of the U.S. coast, one arms control specialist said yesterday, the missiles could hit the center of the United States in 4 minutes. This would be too little warning time to launch B-52 bombers, he said, and would compare with 8 minutes of warning provided by today's submarine missiles fired from the same distance offshore.
The Soviets, however, have been keeping their Delta missile submarines close to Russia rather than sending them close to the American coast. Keeping the Deltas at such a distance helps preserve the "second strike" nature of the Soviet submarine force.
Carr maintained there is no guarantee that Soviet submarines will continue to keep their distance, adding that the accuracy of submarine missiles deployed by both sides is increasing all the time. It would increase "crisis stability," he said, to ban depressed trajectory submarine missiles before the military services and weapons builders get behind their development.
"Once a weapon gains a constituency, it's harder than hell to stop it," said the Michigan lawmaker. A congressional effort to stop the development and testing of multiple warheads for missiles was mounted in the 1960s, but failed.