The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 68.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

MIT lab performs Star Wars studies

By Edward Whang

"To make a statement one way or another about [the feasibility of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)] can't be done," said Lincoln Laboratory Director Walter E. Morrow Jr. '49 at a Student Pugwash forum last Wednesday.

Morrow discussed the lab's policies and history regarding classified military research. Pugwash held the forum, attended by approximately 30 students and faculty members, to examine the role of MIT's Lincoln Laboratory in SDI research.

"There is grotesque ignorance in the SDI literature," Morrow said. "We are trying to bring hard facts."

The laboratory is studying the feasibility of SDI, he said. Scientists are researching surveillance radars which would distinguish decoys from real missiles, Morrow said.

A preliminary SDI test in June featured a specially-designed mirror built by the laboratory, Morrow

added. The mirror, aboard a space shuttle in low orbit, reflected a ground-based laser.

"The Strategic Defense Initiative may be new, but the work is not new to us. We've been at it for 30 years," Morrow said. SDI is a logical outgrowth of Lincoln's earlier work, which centered on using radar and computers to track missile flight paths, Morrow continued.

The laboratory was created in 1951 to develop a national air defense system and has continually researched military defense system technology, he said.

Pentagon sponsors most research

SDI research provides approximately five percent of Lincoln's $300 million annual budget, Morrow said. The lab was the 12th-largest recipient of SDI funding as of September 1984, according to Pentagon figures. SDI research funding could potentially reach $26 billion, he continued.

The Pentagon sponsors nearly 90 percent of the work at the laboratory, with approximately about 40 percent of the activity classified, Morrow said.

All Lincoln research deals with electronic equipment such as radar, communications equipment, computers, and other electronic devices.

Basic and applied research done at the lab is unclassified and published in scientific literature, Morrow said. Although there is classified work in more advanced stages of research, no engineering prototypes are produced at the lab, he added.

Institute policy forbids classified research on campus. The Radiation Laboratory and the Instrumentation Laboratory (now the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory), began performing classified research on campus during World War II, when military police were stationed throughout the campus to guard classifed facilities. During the 1950s and 1960s these laboratories moved off-campus and divested from MIT.

"It was clear that there was a basic incompatibility with classified research on campus," Morrow said.

Morrow thought it unlikely that Lincoln Laboratory would divest from MIT. It is off-campus near Hanscom Field Air Force Base, and the fundamental research performed produces no operational systems, he said. There is also no pressure from the Pentagon for Lincoln to divest, Morrow added.

Most of the MIT faculty members conducting research at Lincoln are involved with unclassified projects, although some do consult in classified areas, he said. All of the approximately 30 graduate theses completed there each year are unclassified, he said. Between 60 and 80 students also perform unclassified work during the summer through various special programs.

Foreign students may not work at Lincoln, however. "A committee established by the provost recommended that once foreign students are on campus, they can participate in any program. This does not apply to Lincoln Lab," said Kenneth A. Smith, associate provost and vice-president for research.

Lincoln has special facilities not available on the MIT campus; despite this fact, "there is no reason to duplicate the same facilities on campus," Morrow said.