The Defense Department plans at least 13 major space experiments over the next five years to help develop a limited ballistic-missile defense, according to documents released by the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) yesterday.
At least seven are to involve attempted missile interceptions and two the launch of new, state-of-the-art satellites to detect and track Soviet missiles, the documents said.
Prepared for an ongoing SDI review by senior Pentagon decision-makers, the documents were described by an SDI spokesman as providing the first official glimpse of technologies needed for the initial phase of a missile defense.
Besides sensor satellites, such a system would include space- and ground-based interceptor rockets, a ground-based sensor rocket and an elaborate communications network.
None of the exotic laser or particle-beam weapons typically associated with the controversial SDI, or "Star Wars," program is to be included in the initial phase, the documents show. SDI officials have said research on such weapons is not far enough along to plan their deployment.
Although all of the experiments are designed to comply with the "narrow," traditional interpretation of the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has proposed that they be expanded to fit within a highly controversial "broad" or permissive treaty interpretation. The White House has not acted on his proposal.
The high cost and ambitious technical goals of the experiments have also been criticized by senior Pentagon officials and scientific advisers, creating uncertainty about whether they will be approved by Undersecretary of Defense Richard P. Godwin, chairman of the ongoing SDI review.
Several Pentagon officials estimated that thousands of additional military personnel would be required to coordinate the experiments at an estimated cost of billions of dollars between next year and 1993.
At least 2,400 of these new employes would be stationed at an elaborate new SDI testing center slated for construction at Falcon Air Force Base east of Colorado Springs.
The SDIO plans call for launch of four to seven Minuteman missiles from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and an attack on them by ground-based interceptor rockets launched from a U.S. Army facility at Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
Two smaller missiles from Kwajalein would also be attacked by experimental, space-based interceptors, and dozens of dummy nuclear warheads and decoys observed by experimental sensor rockets.
Only the tests at Kwajalein would have a potentially significant impact on the U.S. environment, according to the Pentagon documents.
Officials said a new environmental assessment would be required if a decision is made in the early 1990s to deploy several thousand of the missile interceptors at a cost of as much as $100 billion.
Meanwhile, the documents indicated, SDI officials must meet several daunting technical objectives, such as producing highly maneuverable and reliable interceptor rockets inexpensive enough to deploy in such large quantities.
They must also develop a communications network capable of reaching all of these weapons quickly on extremely short notice, despite enemy jamming and other attempts at disruption.
SDI officials must determine whether the sensors can be made to observe high-speed objects -- such as warheads -- with enormous precision at great distances, whether these sensors can be mass-produced and finally whether the sensors can survive the high doses of radiation created by nuclear explosions in space during wartime.