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A $59 billion shield protecting the United States against nuclear weapons could be working within six years if politicians decided to spend the money, the founder of the "Star Wars" defense system said Friday.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, visiting Salt Lake City for a conference of the High Frontier, a non-government group advocating the controversial program, said scientists have the technology necessary to erect a space-based defense against incoming nuclear warheads."It's ready to be deployed right now," Graham said at an afternoon news conference. "There are no technological obstacles."

"Star Wars," also known as the Strategic Defense Initiative or SDI, is based on the concept of land- and space-based lasers, X-rays and missiles being used as a defensive umbrella protecting the United States from intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Graham, who developed the "Star Wars" idea, also took a swipe at Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. Graham produced a recording from a recent radio debate in which Owens said the Soviet Union was incapable of launching a nuclear first-strike and that the United States never had successfully shot a missile traveling through space.

"Both are wrong," Graham said. "Even President Carter said the Soviets had a first-strike capability. He called it the `window of vulnerability.' "

The United States shot a warhead out of space as part of a test in 1984, he said.

"I worry that somebody could be making decisions about the defense of the United States and be so abysmally ignorant of some key elements."

However, Graham said, he did not come to Utah to endorse any candidates. Owens is running for re-election against Republican Richard Snelgrove.

"When I see bad education I just feel obliged to speak up," Graham said.

However, he said the chances of the United States deploying a "Star Wars" system would be better if voters elect Republican George Bush president.

Opponents have criticized SDI as likely to cost billions or trillions of dollars with no assurances it would perform as advertised.

Graham said the system actually would cost little money because it would generate $5 trillion to $20 trillion worth of business in related industries.

He said the Soviet Union is developing its own "Star Wars" program using 15 times the resources the United States is committing. However, the Soviets have serious economic and technological problems that likely will hinder them from developing a system.

"That's one of the reasons they (the Soviets) are frantic to stop SDI," he said.

Graham said he developed the "Star Wars" concept in the late 1970s after Ronald Reagan, then a presidential candidate, asked him to develop a system that would protect the country against a nuclear attack.

Without SDI, the world relies on the theory that no country would initiate a nuclear war for fear it would also be destroyed in a retaliatory nuclear strike. The concept is known as "mutually assured destruction," or MAD.

Graham served as Reagan's military adviser in the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns. He now is considered the father of SDI.

Critics say "Star Wars" would successfully stop only a certain percentage of incoming missiles. Graham said that argument is reason enough to deploy the system.

"Even if we stop 50 percent, it means you're not going to get a deliberate attack," Graham said, noting he thinks the system will stop 95 percent of the missiles in an attack. "Nobody attacks knowing only one-half of his bullets will get through.

"Without SDI, 100 percent of the weapons will get through to you."

The United States will not eliminate wars by deploying the system, Graham said.

"It won't do away with war. It will remove several ways a most awful war could get started," he said.

Graham said an accidental war is mathematically inevitable some time in the future.

"There are nine countries now with long-range missiles," he said. "There will be more."