Strategic Defense Initiative research has not progressed far enough for officials to decide whether to deploy an antimissile shield, according to the top United States military officer. So far work has gone well and promising results indicate that ``we might do some things earlier than we had expected,'' said Adm. William Crowe Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a breakfast with defense reporters.
But Admiral Crowe said that the first stage of a missile defense probably could not be fielded before the mid-1990s.
``A lot of what I read makes it sound as if SDI is just out sitting in the parking lot. That's not true,'' he said.
More testing needs to be done to follow up SDI research leads, according to Crowe. He said this testing would require some reinterpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which prohibits advanced research on and deployment of antimissile defenses.
Currently, the Reagan administration is considering a unilateral reinterpretation of the treaty which would allow it considerably more latitude in SDI work. Some members of Congress and several US allies have objected to this new reading of the treaty, calling it specious legalism.
``From a military perspective,'' said Crowe, ``the broadest interpretation [of the ABM Treaty] we can have is the best.''
Crowe added that he and the rest of the joint chiefs realized that there are other viewpoints besides the military one to be considered when weighing reinterpretaiton.
``The question has a high political content,'' he said. Asked his opinion of the ABM Treaty's overall effect on US security since it was signed, he did not gush with praise. ``There have been some benefits to it,'' he said.
In outlining possible scenarios for SDI deployment, Reagan officials in the past said the system must be cost-effective at the margin - that is, it must be cheaper for the US to strengthen its shield than it is for the Soviet Union to bolster its offensive forces.
More recently Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and other Pentagon sources have appeared to back away somewhat from these cost-effectiveness criteria.
Crowe said that if strategic defenses would be very expensive that should be taken into account when deciding about deployment. But ``if you get real military benefit, that seems to me to be more important than what the actual cost is,'' the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
He defined military benefit as ``raising the level of uncertainty in the Soviets' minds'' about whether any nuclear attack they might mount would succeed.
Currently the Strategic Defense Initiative organization reports directly to the defense secretary, bypassing the joint chiefs. Crowe hinted there is discussion in the Pentagon about putting SDI into the formal procurement process for weapons in development. He also jokingly offered his opinion to the assembled reporters that ``you guys are mezmerized by SDI.''