Construction on an electronic battlefield proposed for Utah's uninhabited western desert will not begin until and unless environmental studies give the "all clear," Air Force officials said Thursday.

Recent Utah newspaper stories claiming construction contracts would be awarded before an environmental impact statement on the Electronic Combat Test Capability range is completed were in error, said Lt. Col. Thomas Bartol."There will be no construction contracts awarded for the ECTC until after the record of decision is filed," said Barton, who is responsible for the impact statement.

And Capt. Garrett Mason of the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center said the environmental studies must be completed first because they might show the range to test the latest Air Force weapons systems should not be built in the area west or south of the Great Salt Lake.

"It's not a sure thing that we're going to put it there," Mason said in a telephone interview from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. "There are environmental, sociological and economic concerns that must be resolved first."

Congress also may balk at the price tag, expected to exceed $1 billion, he said.

The Air Force hopes to complete the draft environmental statement, hold public hearings on the document, and file the final statement by this fall, Bartol said.

If that is completed, it will ask Congress for an estimated $74.45 million in initial funding through fiscal year 1994. The range would not be fully operational for about another six years.

"Be assured, we are acutely aware of our responsibilities with regard to the National Environmental Policy Act, and we will not preempt the decision to proceed with deployment of this proposal until completion of the environmental analysis process," Bartol said.

"Our commitment is to continue with an open and forthright environmental analysis process, which includes inputs from federal, state and local officials and the citizens of the affected area."

The Air Force is looking at three candidate sites in the western Utah desert, all near Hill Air Force Base bombing ranges or the Army's Dugway Proving Ground. The battlefield's control center would be based at Hill, 35 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Utah was picked as "the best site for it," said Mason, after the Air Force rated eight candidate states on availability of land and air space.