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Reduced Defense Budget Entails Risk, Carlucci Says

February 19, 1988|MELISSA HEALY and MICHAEL WINES | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci Thursday gave Congress the Reagan Administration's final defense budget, a pared-down $299.5-billion plan that he said would preserve gains in military readiness and quality but leave "greater risks than we think wise" to the nation's security.

The fiscal 1989 budget, $33 billion less than the Pentagon said a year ago that it would need, includes a $2.2-billion, 4.3% pay raise for the 2.1 million uniformed members of the armed forces.

But it cuts active troop strength by 36,000, shelves plans for an anti-satellite weapon, freezes development of the Air Force's small, mobile Midgetman nuclear missile and scraps a mountain of aging ships, helicopters, missiles and submarines.

It leaves the Navy 20 ships short of its long-sought goal of a 600-vessel fleet and slows purchases of the MX missile, which the Administration has called the centerpiece of its drive to bolster the nation's arsenal of long-range nuclear weapons. Overall, spending for new weapons would drop by 4.3%.

The proposal does seek $4.6 billion--$1 billion more than in the current budget--for the Administration's most prized military system, the space-based nuclear defense dubbed "Star Wars." Even that request, however, is more than 25% below the $6.4 billion that the Pentagon said a year ago that it would be seeking.

Reductions in the spending plan for the 12 months beginning next October were required last fall when the White House and Congress struck a deal to curb federal spending and reduce the federal budget deficit.

Carlucci, who began slicing spending immediately after taking the top defense job last Nov. 24, said that he sacrificed some elaborate or politically contentious programs to devote scarce dollars to a trimmer, better-supplied fighting machine.

"We've made the hard choices here. We have traded off a smaller force in order to maintain a quality force," he said. Carlucci said it would be "disastrous," for example, if lack of pay raises drove experienced military workers into civilian jobs, where he said wages already are an average of 11% higher.

Those priorities drew praise in Congress, where Democrats had waged a seven-year feud with Carlucci's predecessor, Caspar W. Weinberger, over spending on complex and hugely expensive high-tech weapons systems.

"You have made some very tough choices in preparing this revised budget," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) told Carlucci at a hearing. "But you deserve credit for facing these problems and making tough decisions."

4th Year of Decline

But Nunn and others warned that the 1989 plan marks the fourth straight year in which military spending in "real" inflation-adjusted dollars would decline--this time, by less than 1%. From 1981 to 1985, spending grew by 50% after inflation but, since then, total spending in real dollars has declined by 11%.

The decline occurred "at a time when our worldwide commitments have in no way diminished," said Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. "In fact, in my opinion, (they have) expanded."

"I'm not going to have to worry about the risk" incurred by the drop, Carlucci said earlier in the day. "Some future defense secretary is going to have to."

This is the second Pentagon spending plan for fiscal 1989 that Congress has received. The Defense Department originally told lawmakers last year that it would seek $332.5 billion, but the deficit reduction pact agreed to last Nov. 20 forced the Pentagon to reduce that by $33 billion.

Under the terms of the deficit compromise, not more than $294 billion of the $299.5 billion now being requested would actually be spent in fiscal 1989.

By way of comparison, the Pentagon plans this year to spend $285.4 billion of its $291.4-billion authorized budget.

Cutback in Weaponry

The comparatively tight 1989 budget, Carlucci said, will pinch hardest on purchases of new or expanded weapons systems, where Weinberger's budgets were most lavish. The 4.3% cut in procurement is the "biggest hit" in the 1989 budget, he said.

It will force cancellation of several major weapons systems, including an Army reconnaissance drone, a new generation of Navy combat jets and a new Air Force weapon designed to attack Soviet satellites.

The anti-satellite, or ASAT, weapon was a prized program aimed at matching the Soviet Union's own rapid development of such capability, including ground-based lasers that can "blind" reconnaissance satellites more than 100 miles overhead.

Congress has consistently refused to provide money to test the Air Force's ASAT weapon, saying it would violate treaties with the Soviet Union. Carlucci called that decision unwise and said he would willingly cut other Pentagon programs to obtain funds for ASAT testing.

However, "absent the authority to test," he said Thursday, "I can no longer see the wisdom of putting scarce resources into this program."

Halting Midgetman

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