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Midgetman 25 Times Costlier but Is Necessary, Pentagon Says

April 04, 1986|JAMES GERSTENZANG | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A senior Pentagon official, outlining Administration plans to push for additional MX missiles and weighing their cost against the Midgetman missile, said Thursday that the smaller weapon will cost 25 times as much to obtain the same number of warheads but that it is needed to reinforce the nation's nuclear force.

Donald A. Hicks, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said the more expensive Midgetman program will offer greater survivability to the nation's nuclear deterrent.

"I'm all for doing that, recognizing that it costs a lot of money and prevents the Democrats from giving a lot of food stamps out that they might give out otherwise," he said at a breakfast with Pentagon reporters.

Need for $50 Billion

"The cost issue is a real issue," he said, estimating that $50 billion is needed to fund the Midgetman program. Pentagon officials believe the single-warhead missile's mobility would help it survive an enemy missile attack.

His comments summed up the "guns vs. butter" dilemma facing the Administration as it enters another budget battle with a Congress that has become ever more reluctant to meet President Reagan's request for an 8% after-inflation Pentagon budget increase.

At the same time, the Pentagon official continued the debate over the modernization of the nation's nuclear arsenal, emphasizing the Administration's desire to eventually deploy 100 MX missiles, rather than the 50 authorized by Congress.

Hicks said that "all kinds of hysterical" reasons had been cited for cutting deployment of the 10-warhead weapon in half. Opponents of the missile, he said, are "disturbed" because it would carry 10 nuclear warheads, but they "don't seem to be disturbed by the (Soviet) SS-18 with 14" warheads.

Former Northrop Executive

Hicks, a former executive of Northrop Corp., which is building the Advanced Technology Bomber, also known as the Stealth bomber, for the Air Force, is the senior Pentagon official in charge of new weapons. He said an additional 50 MX missiles would cost about $2 billion. The Administration is seeking $1.4 billion in fiscal 1987 to buy 21 MXs.

For an additional $6 billion, he said, 50 missiles could be placed in "super-hard" silos, rather than in old Minuteman missile silos in which the MXs are now scheduled to be deployed, beginning late this year. The "super-hard" silos would be designed to better resist the effects of a Soviet attack.

In the past, Hicks has raised the possibility of placing two or three warheads on the Midgetman, known officially as the small intercontinental ballistic missile. Congress has insisted that the missile carry one warhead and weigh no more than 30,000 pounds.

Hicks indicated that sufficient caution must be exercised so it can be determined whether the nation would be better served by building one-third as many Midgetman missiles as planned, and equipping them with three warheads.

He said that such engineering studies may take two years, but could demonstrate that a two-warhead missile could still be sufficiently mobile, thus cutting in half the number of missiles and launchers needed at a savings of $8 billion to $10 billion.

Current plans call for deploying 500 of the missiles, beginning in late 1992. They would be placed in mobile launchers, protected against the effects of an enemy missile attack, and deployed on military reservations in the West.

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