President Reagan's new defense budget calls for more than a 33-fold increase in spending over the next three years on antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, despite a congressional ban on further testing of the controversial system.
Air Force funding for ASAT procurement would jump from $10 million this year to $30 million in fiscal 1987 and $333 million in fiscal 1988, according to budget documents.
"I'm astounded the Air Force is requesting such a large increase," Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) said yesterday. Brown was a leader of last year's successful effort on Capitol Hill to ban further ASAT testing until Oct. 1 unless the president certifies that the Soviets have ended their self-imposed moratorium on ASAT tests.
"It appears the Air Force is planning to deploy an antisatellite system which flies in the face of Congress' very clear message that not even testing is to proceed," Brown added. He and his congressional allies intend to push for a renewal of the moratorium which was added to the defense appropriations bill covering the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Brown said the Air Force budget indicates the Pentagon is counting of the moratorium being lifted or is planning to deploy an ASAT weapon without adequately testing it in space.
The Air Force has conducted three flight tests of its antisatellite weapon, two in 1984 and one last fall. Only last year's test was against a target satellite. The Soviets also have tested a crude antisatellite weapon.
The Air Force's satellite killer, nicknamed the flying tomato can because of its cylindrical shape, is launched by an F15 fighter plane that flies to the edge of space. The satellite killer after launch is designed to rocket toward the target, home in on the target with infrared sensors and destroy the enemy satellite by colliding with it.
Pentagon officials said yesterday that the Air Force is studying how to conduct additional ASAT tests against a point in space in a manner that could provide confidence in the weapon while Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger pushes for a end to the U.S. moratorium. That ban only forbids tests against objects in space.
In his posture statement released this week with the fiscal 1987 budget, Weinberger said the "successful completion" of the ASAT "will deter the Soviets from using their ASAT weapons, which are already operational, while denying them unrestricted use of space for such threatening actions as targeting U.S. forces in wartime."
The new defense budget also shows a major shift of emphasis in the effort to deploy an ASAT weapon quickly. Last year, the Air Force budget earmarked only $80 million in fiscal 1987 for further research work on the weapon. The new defense budget requests $278 million for that purpose in fiscal 1987, suggesting to some observers that the ASAT may have encountered technical problems.
An Air Force spokesman said yesterday that the big increase stemmed from the decision to take more pains in readying the weapon for production, not because of major technical problems. He also confirmed that the Air Force plans to put the ASAT weapon into production while it is still being perfected, the "concurrency" approach to weapons building that has sometimes proved troublesome in the past.
In fiscal 1988, according to the new budget, the Air Force plans to spend $226 million on developing the weapon, as the service is simultaneously committing $333 million to produce it. An Air Force official said this approach is planned "because we want to get the weapon as quickly as possible."