The Air Force, ordered to cut $10.5 billion from its fiscal 1989 spending plans, has recommended that the single-warhead Midgetman missile program be killed. The recommendation probably will be passed on to Congress by the Defense Department. Restraints on defense spending are unavoidable, given the overriding economic need to get the huge federal budget deficit under control. But it is imperative to kill the right missile--and that is not the Midgetman.
The Pentagon brass has never been enthusiastic about the Midgetman--a small, mobile intercontinental ballistic missile that would be moved around on Southwestern military bases in order to make it harder to hit in the event of a surprise Soviet nuclear attack. The hearts of the brass really lie with a parallel proposal for the construction of 50 ten-warhead MX missiles, in addition to the 50 MXs already scheduled for fixed silos, that would be moved around in railroad cars.
Under pressure from Congress, however, the Reagan Administration has been grudgingly planning the production of 500 Midgetman missiles, with deployment to begin about 1993. Faced with the budget crunch, the Air Force has cheerfully decided to save the MX but kill the Midgetman. That would be a terrible mistake.
American defense officials like to dismiss the Midgetman as the only strategic weapon that was ever designed by Congress. They should tell that to the Soviets, who already are deploying SS-25s--small, truck-mounted ICBMs similar to the Midgetman. And the idea of fielding relatively large numbers of mobile single-warhead missiles in preference to smaller numbers of multiple-warhead ICBMs had a strong following among U.S. defense experts long before influential members of Congress took up the cause--and long before the first SS-25s showed up in the Soviet Union.