President Reagan is set to certify that the conditions imposed by Congress for continuing tests of a new anti-satellite system have been met and the Pentagon is making plans to move ahead with its schedule of experiments on the weapon, Administration officials said Thursday.
The President is expected to issue a statement around March 1 that would allow the Air Force to proceed with tests of the weapon against an object in space, according to White House and Pentagon officials. The first such test is scheduled for late spring or early summer, an Air Force official said.
"There'll be a certification, and we'll proceed with the testing," one White House official declared.
Under guidelines approved last spring, the Administration was blocked by Congress from conducting the tests until after March 1--and then only after Reagan certified that certain conditions, dealing with arms control negotiations, had been met.
Debate Over Funding A congressional source, recalling the debate over funding tests of the weapon, said Thursday that it was assumed when the legislation was prepared that Reagan eventually would declare that the limiting conditions had been met and that the experiments would resume.
However, Congress wanted to hold down the number of tests, he said, forcing the Administration to slow the pace of experiments to give U.S. and Soviet arms negotiators a chance to limit development of the weapons. A rapid series of tests, it was feared, would allow the Administration to deploy the anti-satellite system quickly--a step that would, in effect, challenge the Soviets to achieve a similar capability.
But the White House official, who requested anonymity, said that the pace of coming arms control talks with the Soviet Union is likely to be slow enough to permit the tests to occur before any agreement can be reached on limits.
Under the limits on testing imposed by Congress last spring, no funds could be used to test a weapon against a specific target in space until after March 1 of this year and then only after Reagan certifies that such testing meets the provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, is in the United States' national security interest and will not hamper prospects for negotiating a limit on such weapons. The legislation further specified that the United States must try to negotiate strict limits on such systems with the Soviet Union.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei A. Gromyko agreed in Geneva on Jan. 8 to resume U.S.-Soviet arms control negotiations, which will deal with the military uses of space as well as intermediate- and long-range nuclear missiles. No date or place has been agreed on for those talks.
Anti-satellite weapons are intended to destroy the dozens of satellites that could be used by an enemy to facilitate battlefield communications, intelligence gathering, navigation and wartime command decisions.
In the past, the United States has expressed concern that experts have yet to figure out how to verify a ban on anti-satellite weapons, although it may be possible. The Soviet Union, which initiated a rudimentary anti-satellite system in 1968, has placed a high priority on negotiating limits on the development of a similar U.S. system.
The Soviet weapon, which cannot reach the more important U.S. satellites in higher orbits, would be launched by a missile, then move into orbit and destroy its target by exploding in a shower of shrapnel. The U.S. weapon, a missile, would be launched from a high-flying F-15 fighter jet and would destroy its target by ramming it at high speed.
The Air Force already has conducted two tests involving the launching of a missile from an F-15, but the missile has been aimed at a point--rather than an object--in space. Those tests, considered at least partly successful, took place last Jan. 21 and Nov. 13. In addition, 35 other tests that did not involve the actual firing of a weapon have been performed.