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SDI Chief Says Deployment Timing Depends On Many Factors

January 21, 1987

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) _ A decision on early deployment of some elements of the Strategic Defense Initiative will depend on the Soviet threat at the time, funding and other factors, the head of the missile defense program said Tuesday.

Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson also denied that political dealing was behind a recent flurry of reports that the administration was considering deployment of units of the system popularly called ″Star Wars″ in space as early as 1991 or 1992.

Two Democratic senators, Bennett Johnston of Louisiana and William Proxmire of Wisconsin, charged earlier Tuesday that talk about accelerating the SDI program was for political purposes. Asked about that, Abrahamson replied, ″absolutely not.″

″What we’re doing is responsibly going through and fleshing out what the concept of deployment is,″ Abrahamson told the opening session of a four-day space symposium attended by space leaders from around the world.

As to a decision on implementation, he said, ″That’s to be made at some time in the future by an appropriate level, and obviously it’s going to depend on the world situation as well as other factors.″

Among those factors, he said, are ″funding, how successful we are in the research, what level of effectiveness we think is an appropriate place to start and finally, it depends on the threat.″

Abrahamson said that planners of the missile defense have long said that the deployment was not going to happen all at once.

He also was asked about a dispute that arose last week when Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said deployment of the first phase would protect cities, while President Reagan’s arms control adviser, Edward Rowney, was saying it initially would shield missile sites.

Abrahamson said that the main goal is to destroy a hostile missile as early as possible, and in a missile’s earliest phase, ″nobody knows what the target is - whether a city or a military installation.

″I think the secretary wants to emphasize that we’re not talking about starting with the terminal defense that you would put around a particular target that you want to protect.

″A terminal defense is part of a layered system - boost, midcourse and terminal intercept - if you have that first layer in, the terminal defense is kind of a cleanup hitter.″

SDI is now a research project to determine if a combination of land- and space-based weapons could defend against hostile missiles.

Pressed by senators, many of whom oppose the program, Weinberger couldn’t say when deployment would start or specifically what Phase 1 would be. The defense secretary is scheduled to address the symposium Thursday.

The Reagan administration is considering having some SDI units deployed in space in the early 1990s at a cost of about $100 billion, according to a report in the New York Times. That would be earlier than initially planned.

On Wednesday, a panel of experts, including NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher, will discuss the efforts to recover from the Jan. 28, 1986 Challenger accident and U.S. space goals for the future.

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