WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, backing away from his first potential confrontation with Congress, told a House committee Wednesday that he will not push a plan that would base MX missiles on the nation's railways as early as 1991, leaving the decision for the next presidential administration.
"It would be premature to ask Congress to commit to that," Carlucci said of a previously announced proposal to deploy eight of the 12 MX missiles the Pentagon wants to build next year, as well as 38 already built and deployed in silos, aboard trains.
Carlucci, whose testimony revealed an initial Administration plan to move ahead quickly with such a basing scheme, was warned by lawmakers that the proposal would face strong resistance in Congress. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) and Rep. Nicholas Mavroules (D-Mass.) said they had urged Carlucci to slow the pace of the proposal.
Proposed Force of 100
The Administration considers the 10-warhead MX the centerpiece of its strategic modernization plan and has proposed a force of 100 of the missiles. But Congress set a cap of 50 on the deployed missiles until the Administration proposes an alternative to the current basing system, which houses the missiles in older Minuteman silos in the West.
Carlucci told a Senate panel in November that he favored deploying all of the 100 missiles the Air Force hopes to build on trains that would disperse on the nation's railways during a nuclear crisis.
On another topic, Carlucci told the House committee that he never knew Navy Secretary James H. Webb Jr. was angered by proposed budget cuts until his resignation letter "landed on my desk."
Webb resigned Monday, protesting the Navy's budget and arguing that the goal of a 600-ship Navy had been abandoned. The budget calls for 580 ships in 1989, down from 605 vessels.
Carlucci said Webb's resignation caught him by surprise, and that although most budget decisions were made by a deputy, any service chief was free to protest budget actions to the top.
"Secretary Webb never came to me with any problem on the budget cuts," Carlucci said. "I was not aware of his intention to resign until the letter landed on my desk."