The Air Force has proposed abandoning its ASAT "satellite killer" weapon, giving up for budget reasons a program that had been repeatedly condemned by congressional leaders, officials said yesterday.
The recommendation is part of a package of proposed cuts to the fiscal 1989 budget being reviewed by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, said the officials, who asked not to be named.
Carlucci has yet to decide on the recommendation. But given the ASAT program's troubled history on Capitol Hill, "this one is probably expendable," said one source.
The Pentagon must cut $32.9 billion from its proposed budget to meet a congressionally mandated ceiling of $299.5 billion for 1989 military spending.
Pentagon sources had earlier disclosed the Air Force also is proposing to kill the Midgetman program.
The ASAT program has been hobbled by Congress for more than three years, with congressional Democrats succeeding in banning tests of the new rocket in space, essentially stopping the weapon's final development.
Despite congressional opposition, President Reagan has insisted on pursuing development of the ASAT -- a small missile that is carried to high altitude by an F15 jet fighter and then fired into space to attack satellites in low Earth orbit. The weapon destroys its target through the force of impact.
The Air Force managed to test the ASAT once against an actual target in space, successfully destroying an old research satellite in 1985, before Congress intervened.
Reagan argues the weapon is necessary because the Soviet Union has a type of ASAT weapon.
Congressional Democrats, led by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) counter that the Soviet weapon is a much cruder version of the U.S. system and poses little threat to U.S. satellites. They also maintain that the United States should forgo testing such a weapon unless the Soviets resume testing.