Anti-missile defense is feasible now, says one advocate
Daniel O. Graham says there's nothing ''Buck Rogers-ish'' about wanting a US defense that really defends. The retired lieutenant general, head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency under President Ford, strongly supports the space-based missile defense program advocated by President Reagan on March 23.Skip to next paragraph
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He has reason to. For more than a year General Graham has been advocating a program called ''High Frontier'' that he says fulfills the President's call to exploit America's high-technology lead in behalf of national defense.
The difference: Mr. Reagan has asked that new technologies be developed in coming years, with installation of a working defense system perhaps decades away. General Graham argues that the time to begin a defense against Soviet missiles is now, using today's technology.
The privately financed High Frontier strategy, developed during the past 18 months by a team of about 20 scientists and engineers, calls for a three-layered US defense. The first layer, using existing technology, would consist of 432 US satellites armed with nonnuclear missiles that would intercept Soviet missiles shortly after launch. As a backup, ground-based clusters of nonnuclear missiles would protect each US missile site from Soviet warheads that penetrated the space-based defenses.
These two lines of defense could be put in place within the relatively short span of six to seven years, says General Graham. More satellites using advanced technologies - yet-to-be-developed particle-beam weapons or other so-called ''Star Wars'' defenses - would be added as the third component four to five years later. Although the plan would cost about $24 billion over the first five or six years, the reduced need for other defenses, such as superhardened missile silos, would ''more than pay for it,'' according to Graham.
The Graham plan has yet to gain any wide acceptance in US scientific circles. ''I cannot take this proposal seriously. It is fundamentally flawed and just hasn't been thought out,'' says Kostas Tispis, who has studied the technical aspects of US strategic defenses for many years as director of the Program in Science and Technology for International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Dr. Tispis, who debated General Graham on Canadian television recently, says the Soviets could easily fool the High Frontier satellites by equipping their missiles to release small objects that would look like thousands of additional missiles to the sensors aboard the US satellites. He also predicts the cost of orbiting the US satellites would be roughly $120 billion, nearly 10 times more than High Frontier advocates claim.
If the United States attempts to deploy such a system, say critics of space-based defenses, including Tispis, it would generate instability in the superpower standoff. They argue that such a defense, combined with the presence of US offensive missiles, might convince the Soviets that the US was seeking to launch a nuclear first strike. The result, says Tispis, is that ''the Russians will either build missiles like crazy to overcome it, which they have the capacity to do,'' or develop space-based weapons to destroy the US satellites.