Reports of the demise or longtime delay - of a multibillion-dollar electronic combat test range in Utah were apparently premature.

The U.S. Air Force told Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, on Wednesday that it will begin work Friday on an environmental impact statement about the proposed range, which it plans to build in phases between 1989 and 2000.But just last spring, officers told members of the Utah delegation that budget cuts had eliminated any possibility of building the range until well into the next decade - so plans for it were being shelved.

Military and private experts have said the range - formally called the Electronic Combat Test Capability program - would allow testing for devices to jam enemy communication, systems to make aircraft invisible to radar and components needed to make a "Star Wars" space-defense system possible.

Officials say it could draw many high-tech industries to the state and be almost as lucrative to the state's economy as the once highly sought "super conducting supercollider" - a giant atom smasher that many states sought because they felt it would also draw high-tech industry.

But the range has critics, too. The watchdog group Downwinders is concerned about possible health hazards from microwave-type radiation that may be used there, and worries about possible electromagnetic pulse testing - the pulse created by nuclear bombs that can knock out TV and radio broadcasts, said group spokesman Steve Erickson.

The proposed site for the range is on the Utah Test and Training Range operated by Hill Air Force Base on the West Desert. Hansen said the Army told him the environmental impact statement will look at the site-specific construction of facilities at Hill and at various locations within the range.

Hansen said scoping hearings to gain information for the environmental impact statement will be scheduled during the week of Nov. 14 in Delta, Ibapah, Tooele County, Ogden, Tooele and Wendover.

Hansen said, "In mock combat the Soviets win again and again, and short of actual war, this program will provide the best measure of how we do against the Warsaw Pact. It also will allow for more high-technology business to locate in the state. I can't think of anything bad to say about the program."

The cost of the range is estimated between $2.6 billion and $4 billion.

John Buchanan, a retired Marine colonel now working in Washington, D.C., for the private Center for Defense Information, has said that besides spending that money on construction and equipment, "Companies with government contracts in electronics, aerospace, weapons and other high-tech areas would flock to Hill Air Force Base and Salt Lake City to test and market their equipment."

Buchanan said such a test range has been desired by the military for a long time. He said it could test devices designed to jam or deceive Soviet electronic equipment that controls such things as radars and the launching of anti-aircraft missiles. It could also be used to test a stealth airplane and components for a Star Wars space defense system.

He said the remote Utah desert - with its sparse population and wide-open spaces - is one of the few places such equipment can be tested without interfering with civilian radio broadcasts. He said, for example, he once wanted to test on the East Coast a Marine airplane with five signal-jamming devices.

"We couldn't do some of the things we wanted because it was so powerful that it would have interfered with radio and television signals up and down the Eastern seaboard. But in Utah, you have the opportunity to test some of that equipment - at least at reduced power."

Buchanan said such a test range has been desired by the military for a long time. He said it could test devices designed to jam or deceive Soviet electronic equipment that controls such things as radars and the launching of anti-aircraft missiles. It could also be used to test a stealth airplane and components for a Star Wars space defense system.

He said the remote Utah desert _ with its sparse population and wide-open spaces _ is one of the few places such equipment can be tested without interfering with civilian radio broadcasts. He said, for example, he once wanted to test on the East Coast a Marine airplane with five signal-jamming devices.

"We couldn't do some of the things we wanted because it was so powerful that it would have interfered with radio and television signals up and down the Eastern seaboard. But in Utah, you have the opportunity to test some of that equipment _ at least at reduced power."