Air Force leaders distanced themselves yesterday from the Pentagon's research director, who has warned that the Soviets could have an anti-satellite laser in orbit as early as next year.
Richard D. Delauer, Pentagon research director, in a secret statement inadvertently made public at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing, said that U.S. "geosynchronous satellites may be threatened by a Soviet space-based laser as early as 1983-1988."
Geosynchronous satellites are those that hang over the same spot on Earth at an altitude of 22,500 miles and are frequently used to bounce radio communications down to earth. The Carter administration had said that Soviet space weapons threatened low-flying satellites, such as those used for reconnaissance, but had not portrayed the high-altitude ones as being imperiled.
Gen. Lew Allen, Air Force chief of staff, told the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense yesterday that he is among those "skeptical" about Soviet space-based lasers posing a threat to American satellites anytime soon. Allen said he is more worried about Soviet progress on lasers based on the ground and Soviet anti-satellite efforts in general.
Lt. Gen. Kelly Burke, Air Force research director, told the House Armed Services subcommittee on research that there is no need for the United States to embark on a crash effort to develop space-based lasers. He said the choice of what type of laser technology to pursue could be made in 1984, and the decision on whether to put a particular system into full-scale development could be put off until 1987.
"I personally am not encouraged by what I've seen in the application of space-based lasers up to this point," he said.
Burke also said that the possibility of building light aircraft powered by diesel engines resuscitated proposals to base the MX missile in giant aircraft orbiting over the oceans for days at a time. However, after some analysis, Burke said he "would guess it's least likely of the things we're looking at" for the MX basing mode.
In a related development, the House panel yesterday approved a letter to the Budget Committee stating that the $263 billion President Reagan is asking for defense in fiscal 1983 is justified. The Armed Services panel warned, however, that economic conditions will force some cuts, but it did not specify amounts.
The letter, approved by voice vote, was in the form of guidance to the Budget Committee on what it believes the ceiling for national defense should be in the first budget resolution Congress will consider this year.