Hasty Judgment on Star Wars Test

THERE is good reason to believe that the accusations of ``rigged'' missile tests hurled against the former Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) may, in fact, be specious. Only a congressional investigation, it appears, will clarify the issue. Meanwhile, much judgemental editorial commentary has followed a recent New York Times story that quoted anonymous sources who charge that SDI tests at the US Army's Kwajalein missile range in June 1984 had been rigged. Yet officials directly familiar with the tests firmly deny any foul play.

Quoting nameless sources, the article said United States military officials had ``put a beacon with a certain frequency on the target vehicle. On the interceptor [there was] a receiver [so that] the target was talking to the missile [interceptor] saying, `Here I am. Come and get me.' ''

Regarding on-board ``beacons'' or radio-signaling devices, former Reagan defense official Frank Gaffney points out that the interceptor rocket could not have homed in on the dummy warhead since the interceptor carried no receiver aboard. Even if it had, he adds, such signals were too weak and of the wrong type to guide the missile. ``Beacons,'' officials say, refer merely to the weak signals transmitted by some of the tests' in-flight components and are used solely for range-safety purposes. Those signals were not fed into the ``guidance loop.'' In the experiment's first three attempts, the interceptor missed. But in the fourth, with virtually the same setup, the interceptor hit its target - said to be the first such ``hit'' in history.

Former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger says bluntly, ``You don't use [deception] on the Congress and you don't use it in situations where there is no reason to deceive. They [Moscow] knew what we were doing.''

Moreover, former Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, who heads High Frontier, Inc., an early independent pioneer of anti-missile defense, points out that the interceptor ``was designed to guide itself to the target by responding to optical sensors, not radio signals. If one wanted to make the interceptor respond to radio signals, you would have to emplace a different guidance system. To ensure success, you would have to expect this different weapon to operate perfectly on its first test. The contractor Lockheed would have had to involve many engineers in this presumed fakery.''

In a follow-up story in late August, Maj. Gen. Eugene Fox, retired former commander of the US Army's Missiles Defense Systems Command, told the Associated Press that the successful 1984 Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE) was performed ``with complete scientific integrity.'' The ``hit'' was genuine, he said, and was an important milestone in HOE experiments and for SDI research as a whole.

Issues surrounding ballistic missile defense are bound to provoke controversy. But hurling accusation without attribution and indicting former officials before the facts are in would best be tabled until more tangible documentation is at hand.

This may be forthcoming shortly from the congressional investigation that appears to be getting underway.

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