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Director defends SDI

By Ben Stanger

Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson '55, director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO), said last night in Faneuil Hall that the SDI program, like all research, will not "inevitably lead to deployment and development."

Abrahamson stressed the investigative aspect of SDI. "We think it is a program with great hope for the future," he said. He compared SDI to the NASA Space Shuttle program, which he directed until President Ronald W. Reagan appointed him director of SDIO.

To say we cannot have an effective defense strategy "is against all what MIT stands for, and certainly against what our country stands for," he said.

Abrahamson criticized the present defensive system. The Soviet Union's military doctrine does not worry about a US first strike, he said. The Soviet Union is instead worried about our retaliatory capability.

"We have to think, what is their capability.... In three to four years, they could put a terminal defense over [selected sights]," Abrahamson said. These Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems don't provide much protection to either of our countries, however, because they "can be overcome" by a larger number of missiles.

The only effective use of a terminal defense is against a "ragged retaliatory strike by the US," according to Abrahamson. If the present policy of deterrance fails, he warned, then every warhead gets through.

Abrahamson said that with SDI, Reagan wants to end American's fears of nuclear war. SDI was chosen because of the failure of other military protocols, including negotiations, according to Abrahamson. "We seem caught in this trap," he said. "They modernize and we feel we have to modernize."

Reagan's announcement of the SDI plan in March, 1983, included a proposal that the United States would share the "Star Wars" technology with the Soviet Union. After it is designed, the technology may actually be shared with the Soviets as a bargaining measure at the negotiation table, Abrahamson said. In the meantime, "A very large amount of this effort is indeed available [to the public]."

Abrahamson said an umbrella defense is impossible, but the SDI system "doesn't have to be perfect." He discussed the concept of a "layer defense," which will theoretically make the "Star Wars" technology effective.

The first layer of defense will destroy missiles shortly after they are launched. The second layer will destroy missiles which have gone far above the ground, but which are still nested (not separated). The third and fourth layers will pick off separated warheads and stragglers respectively. Abrahamson said each layer would be 60 to 70 percent effective, making the entire system approximately 99 percent effective.

Abrahamson responded to questions about the inability to test the system before it is put into use. Again he made an analogy with the Space Shuttle. Components of the Shuttle were tested separately in simulators, although no complete test of the Shuttle was made prior to its launch.

The five million lines of code in the Space Shuttle software was error tolerant, allowing small errors in the program to go by, he said. The SDI system will be fault tolerant in both hardware and software.

"We don't test our offensive systems today," Abrahamson added.

Abrahamson said that the economic tradeoff of developing such a system would be a Congressional decision. It's a lot of money, but it is a good investment if it works out, he said.

MIT protestors present

Approximately 20 protestors from the MIT Students Against the Strategic Defense Initiative demonstrated in front of Faneuil Hall before the discussion. Ron Newman '79 expressed concern that certain projects at MIT will become classified.

A pamphlet distributed by the demonstrators stated, "As MIT students and alumni, we are embarrassed that the head of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organiztion ... is a fellow alumnus."

The pamphlet also stated that 57.6 percent of all research dollars going to MIT research come from the Department of Defense.

Abrahamson expressed his pleasure at the debate process going on in the United States. He addressed the students directly during his talk saying, "I am not ashamed of you."

Abrahamson's talk was sponsored by the Ford Hall Forum and was moderated by Steven Curwood, Special Education editor for The Boston Globe.