Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), citing “recent advances in technology,” called Friday for serious consideration of a new proposal for basing the controversial MX missile, a plan he said would cost much less and be far less vulnerable to Soviet attack than two other proposals now in the forefront.
“I have heard enough to persuade me that, before we make any final decision on what our next land-based (missile) deterrent will be, this new technology should be thoroughly investigated,” Wilson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a group of reporters in his office.
Kind of Shell Game
Wilson said the proposal, which has been developed by a California defense firm, calls for encasing the missiles in protective canisters, then shuttling the weapons and their launchers among a series of canopied silos in a kind of shell game.
The new plan represents one more attempt to solve the basic problem that has dogged the MX: Given the increasing accuracy of Soviet missiles, how can a new U. S. strategic missile be effectively protected from a potential first strike? Strategic weapons specialists argue that a weapon vulnerable to a first strike is not an effective deterrent and could even be destabilizing because, in time of crisis, it could put the United States in a position of “use it or lose it.”
The basing system contrasts with two other proposals. One, apparently favored by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, calls for placing multiple-warhead MX missiles in “super-hardened” silos capable of withstanding attack by increasingly accurate Soviet missiles. The other plan would replace the large MX missiles with small “Midgetman” rockets launched from mobile vehicles.
‘Race Track’ Plan Scrapped
Previously discarded was a “race track” plan that would have shuttled a few missiles among numerous “hard” silos.
An aide indicated that Wilson was alerted to the new proposal by Donald Hicks, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
“There is controversy in the Pentagon about this,” the aide, Mark Albrecht, said. “The secretary is moving in another direction and doesn’t want to be waved off.”
Albrecht said Wilson had checked out the new proposal with the firm that is developing it--Research & Development Associates of Marina del Rey--and was impressed by what he had learned.
Wilson himself gave only a cautious sketch of the details, saying many were “classified,” and he declined to identify those in the Pentagon and the defense industry he had been in touch with.
He said the new technology involved a hard-skinned canister that would contain the missile and its launcher as it was carried by a vehicle from silo to silo. As with the discarded race track plan, the system would depend heavily on deception for its effectiveness. The missile-carrying vehicle would stop at each silo under a canopy that would conceal whether a missile was being loaded into a silo or being taken out of a silo, Wilson said.
Cost Savings Cited
Wilson estimated that this system would be six to 10 times cheaper than the old race track proposal and take up far less space. He also contended that it would be much less expensive than the plan apparently backed by Weinberger because of the huge difference in costs between building conventional silos and those that have been “super-hardened” against nuclear attack.
Moreover, Wilson said, the new proposal would be less costly and more “survivable” than the single-warhead Midgetman plan because each missile would carry multiple warheads, and it would be protected by the hard-skinned canister.
While a new basing mode is being debated, Congress and the White House have agreed to a cap of 50 MX missiles that could be deployed in existing Minuteman silos.