WASHINGTON — Only five days after Congress narrowly approved construction of 21 MX missiles for this fiscal year, the Republican-dominated Senate Armed Services Committee voted Tuesday to slash President Reagan's plans for constructing 48 additional missiles next year.
The committee's action, taken as it met in closed session to prepare its recommendations on the Pentagon's 1986 budget, authorized funds for constructing only 21 more of the massive 10-warhead missiles in the next fiscal year. It raised fresh doubts about whether Reagan will ever achieve his plan for deploying 100 MXs in existing Minuteman 3 missile silos near Cheyenne, Wyo.
A protracted study of MX basing options two years ago discarded the last of several dozen deployment proposals and recommended the use of the old silos. But critics continue to argue that the unhardened silos are vulnerable to Soviet attack.
Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services subcommittee on strategic and theater nuclear forces, said that, if more than 50 of the missiles are to be deployed, Reagan and Congress will have to find a new basing system.
Despite the protracted controversy, 21 MXs are already being built. Those, plus the 21 approved by the House and Senate for fiscal 1985 and the 21 authorized by the Senate committee for fiscal 1986, would bring the total to 63--compared with the 90 that would have been approved through fiscal 1986 under the Administration plan--though some would be used for test purposes instead of deployment.
In recent days, some members of the Senate and the House have begun to talk about permitting deployment of no more than 50 MXs.
Support for Limit
Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) has said that, among those who voted for the 1985 MX funding last week, he is gaining support for the 50-missile limit implied in Tuesday's action by the Senate committee.
The Senate approved the 1985 MX funding on twin votes of 55 to 45. The House gave Reagan a six-vote edge in its key vote on the issue.
Senate sources said the Armed Services Committee decided to provide funding for 21 missiles in fiscal 1986, which begins Oct. 1, after rejecting a proposal by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) to remove all MX funding.
The voting strictly followed party lines, with the 10 Republicans on the panel voting for the 21 additional weapons and the nine Democrats voting to terminate MX production at the current level.
The Administration has requested $313.7 billion for the Defense Department in fiscal 1986, which would represent a 5.9% increase over the inflation level of 4% to 5%.
Three Budget Options
Under a plan devised by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), the committee chairman, the panel is developing three budget options to dramatize the military impact of efforts to freeze Pentagon spending. One plan would hold the Pentagon to a 4% increase beyond inflation, a second would offer a 3% increase, and a third would allow the Pentagon increases to cover the cost of inflation but nothing more.
Under this three-option formula, Senate sources said, the committee approved three plans to cut spending on research for the "Star Wars" space-based missile defense plan for which Reagan is lobbying.
Reagan has sought $3.7 billion for the missile defense research known in the Administration as the Strategic Defense Initiative. The sources, speaking on the condition they not be identified, said the committee approved a $150-million cut as part of the 4% growth plan; a $300-million cut if the increase is held to 3% and a $750-million cut if spending growth is held to the level of inflation.
Restores C-17 Funds
In another area, the panel is understood to have reversed a 5-4 decision by its sea power and force projection subcommittee and restored $453 million sought for the C-17 transport jet. The committee, acting on an amendment offered by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), voted 13 to 5 to continue funding for the $40-billion plane. The measure includes funding for work on a prototype at the Douglas Aircraft Co. subsidiary in Long Beach.
The Senate sources also said the committee approved Reagan's chemical weapons request, a significant step for the Administration, although the House has blocked previous efforts to buy new supplies of chemical weapons. Last year, the Senate committee recognized the strong opposition in the House and refused to recommend funding for the purchases.
This year, however, it approved spending about $1 billion for defensive equipment as well as production of chemicals to build new stockpiles of nerve gas agents.
No new chemical weapons have been authorized since 1969, and the Administration wants to replace aging stocks with new "binary" weapons in which chemicals are kept apart--and thus rendered harmless--until combined automatically in a shell or bomb just before reaching a target.
Training in Purchasing
The panel also accepted a subcommittee's recommendation that minimum standards be set for training military officers involved in weapons procurement, reflecting an effort to improve the preparation of these officers and their performance in directing the Pentagon's huge purchasing operations.
The sources said the committee has yet to tackle a recommendation that it reduce funding for the Stealth bomber, intended to take advantage of new technology to elude radar detection, and that it limit funds for production of the Sgt. York Division Air Defense (DIVAD) gun, which has had problems in passing performance tests. The Army said Tuesday that it had begun a final round of tests.
The committee hopes to finish its work on the measure today and send it to the full Senate. The House Armed Services Committee has yet to begin detailed work on fiscal 1986 spending. After the two chambers act, the differences in the two military budgets they prepare will be worked out by a joint committee.