Fate of MX hangs on a study

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The controversial MX missile may never be deployed, Pentagon officials say. When President Reagan announced in early October that 100 of the missiles would be built, he ordered a three-year study of ways to make them less vulnerable to Soviet attack. Meanwhile, he proposed putting some of the missiles in existing silos, which would be hardened further against nuclear blast. That part of the plan is decidedly unpopular, and a US House Appropriations subcommittee voted last week to kill the expensive idea.

But if a study now under way concludes that none of these projects would enable missiles to survive attack into the 1990s, the President might well decide to cancel the costly MX program before any were even built.

On the other hand, if one of the three alternatives appears to work - putting MX in huge planes or deep in ;underground silos or protecting it with an antiballistic missile - then all 100 missiles would probably be based that way rather than in less-secure existing silos, officials said.

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So the congressional battle over hardened silos will deal with something that may never happen.

The officials dislike acknowledging it publicly, since it would fuel the Western European antinuclear movement by prompting the question of why Western Europeans should put new missiles on their soil if the United States isn't doing likewise.

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