FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ The killing of a Munich executive appears to be the latest chapter in a sporadic 18-year-old campaign by a small leftist terrorist gang against business, government and military targets in West Germany.

The Red Army Faction claimed responsibility for the bomb blast that killed Karl Heinz Beckurts, chief of research and development for the Siemens electronics company, and his chauffeur as they drove to work through a Munich surburb Wednesday.

The group cited as one of the reasons Beckurts' role in preliminary talks on a contract in the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, or ''Star Wars'' missile defense program.

Security authorities have blamed the Red Army Faction and its predecessor, the Baader-Meinhof gang, for scores of terrorist attacks in West Germany since the early 1970s.

Authorities estimate the Red Army Faction today has about 20 hard-core commandos and 200 sympathizers who provide safehouses and other support.

In the late 1960s, radical West German student circles conceived the idea of staging a war on capitalism and imperialism. Violence began with the bombing of a Frankfurt department store in 1968.

A small underground band of commandos formed behind ex-student Andreas Baader and radical journalist Ulrike Meinhof. The group began a wave of bombings and arson attacks against targets representing Western military power and big business.

Baader, Ms. Meinhof and most of the gang's first-generation ringleaders were captured in the early 1970s and sentenced to life imprisonment. Ms. Meinhof committed suicide in prison in 1976.

The group took on the name Red Army Faction, and terrorist violence reached its peak in West Germany in 1977.

During that year, Red Army Faction commandos killed Siegfried Buback, the chief federal proseutor; Juergen Ponto, chairman of Dresdner Bank, West Germany's second largest bank; and Hanns-Martin Schleyer, head of the West German employers association.

Authorities said Schleyer's September 1977 abduction and a Lufthansa airliner hijacking a month later were designed to force the West German government to free four imprisoned Baader-Meinhof chieftains, including Baader.

West German anti-terrorist commandos stormed the Lufthansa plane at the Mogadishu, Somalia airport on Oct. 18, 1977 and ended the hijacking without injury to the passengers.

The same day, Baader and two other gang leaders, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan Carl Raspe, committed suicide in prison.

A second generation of gang leaders took over, but many were killed or captured in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A third generation of the gang slowly formed through underground recruiting. Violent incidents resumed in 1981, concentrating on American military personnel and installations.

The most spectacular incident in this period was the September 1981 attack on U.S. Army Gen. Frederick Kroesen.

Kroesen and his wife were slightly injured when a grenade fired by a launcher hit the rear of his passing limousine in Heidelberg.

Several Red Army Faction suspects in the Kroesen attack as well as the 1977 slayings of Buback, Ponto and Schleyer were arrested in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison.

In late 1984, more than 30 imprisoned Red Army Faction members went on a hunger strike to win recognition as political prisoners. Authorities refused the demand, and the inmates ended their fast on Feb. 1, 1985.

The same day, aircraft industrialist Ernst Zimmermann was killed in his Munich area home. The Red Army Faction took responsibility for the slaying of Zimmermann, whose company manufactures jet engines for NATO.

The group also claimed responsibility in the Aug. 8, 1985 car bombing at the U.S. Rhein Main Air Base outside Frankfurt that killed two Americans and injured 20 other people.