In what Pentagon officials acknowledged is “a startling change,” the Defense Department said today that the cost of the first phase of a “Star Wars” defensive shield has been lowered from $115 to $69 billion, and that it could be available within a decade.
The lowered cost is the result of changes in the program, Robert Costello, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Air Force Lt. Gen. James Abrahamson, director of the “Star Wars” program and Gen. Robert Herres, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a joint hearing of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
The Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board had completed an annual review of the program on Tuesday and approved a series of restructuring moves, they told the panels.
The lowered projections surprised some legislators. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate panel, said he viewed the numbers with “some skepticism.”
Nunn said costs on other weapons have dropped while the weapons were on the drawing boards, but then rose once the programs entered the construction phase.
Abrahamson denied that the program’s goals have changed and said a defense of U.S. population centers is still the aim.
“The goals have not changed,” he told Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) in answer to a question.
The changes are designed to keep the research moving forward while addressing concerns that it would cost too much to begin deploying a system on the ground and in space, the Pentagon said.
The restructuring “absolutely does not” mean the Reagan Administration is pulling back from its original goal of developing a high-tech defensive system that could shield the United States from nuclear missiles, the Pentagon added.
The program, as now modified, will still “continue to emphasize research on space defense, to provide for early deployment of space-based sensor systems, to maintain the option to develop a limited protection system, given a future national decision and the funding to do so, and to provide for a balance between near- and longer-term weapons technology programs,” the statement said.
The “Star Wars” program, known formally as the Strategic Defense Initiative, is an effort to develop lasers and other exotic weapons that could be deployed in space and on the ground to automatically shoot down Soviet nuclear missiles.
Congress has repeatedly refused in recent years to fund the program at the pace sought by President Reagan, but nonetheless has allowed the research to continue.