Four years ago President Reagan projected his 1989 defense budget at an almost unimaginable $456 billion. His request to Congress for the coming fiscal year in fact totals less than two-thirds that amount. Indeed, the $299.5 billion in spending authority that Reagan seeks is a full 10% less than what the Pentagon was insisting just a few months ago it must have. Does this considerable scaling down reflect a sense that the world has lately become a safer place, easing the manifold international responsibilities assigned to the U.S. armed forces? Not really. What the Administration's final defense budget represents instead is an unavoidable accommodation with harsh fiscal realities.
Credit Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci with guiding the services toward that accommodation. The process hasn't been without pain, and, as Carlucci and the service chiefs will be testifying in the months ahead, it is not seen as being without risks. But Congress, many of whose members agree on the risks involved, seems unlikely to make significant changes in the defense request.
The big blow will fall on procurement. The Navy will have to forget about--for now and probably for good--its ambitions for a 600-ship fleet, the Army will see its helicopter program sharply curtailed, the Air Force will lose three fighter wings of 72 planes each. In all, 18 weapon systems in production or under development are to be scrapped, while the services will shrink by 36,000 uniformed personnel.