A House-Senate conference committee, meeting behind closed doors, agreed Wednesday to limit deployment of MX missiles to 50--half the number sought by President Reagan--unless the Administration alters its plan to put them in existing silos, according to congressional sources.
In working toward an overall compromise on fiscal 1986 defense spending, the committee was said to have agreed also to slash $1 billion from Reagan's request for so-called "Star Wars" research, to add $100 million more than the Administration wants for development of the Midgetman missile and to allow three new tests of an anti-satellite weapon against a target in space.
In addition, sources said, the committee decided to require the Pentagon to consider buying both the F-20 and F-16 jet fighters next year. Until recently, the Defense Department has resisted congressional pressure to consider the F-20, manufactured by Northrop Corp. in Hawthorne, Calif.
Those actions by the 39-member conference committee represent a setback for the President's defense program, which already has been trimmed several times over the last few months as the defense authorization bill has made its way through Congress. The committee's task is to resolve an estimated 1,000 differences between the House and Senate measures.
Although the conference committee provided less than Reagan had sought, Republicans, as well as Democrats, portrayed its action as a victory. Democrats were pleased that the committee had increased funding for the Midgetman missile over the objection of the GOP members; Republicans said that the bill would allow the Administration more flexibility in developing the "Star Wars" space-based missile defense program.
Administration officials were expected to be most disappointed by the MX compromise, because it firmly limits to 50 the number to be deployed in old silos. Some congressmen doubt that existing silos can be strengthened sufficiently to protect the missiles.
But the agreement was more generous to the Administration on the MX than was the House-passed bill, which cut the deployment level to 40 and permitted no missiles to be manufactured in fiscal 1986. Twelve missiles will be produced next year under the House-Senate pact.
However, the President and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger are expected by November to mount a new drive for deployment of 100 missiles.
Even Split on 'Star Wars'
The committee decided to authorize $2.75 billion for "Star Wars" development--about $1 billion less than the President wanted, but an even split between the House level of $2.5 billion and the Senate level of nearly $3 billion. Republicans viewed it as a victory because the committee abolished strict House-passed language stating precisely how the money should be spent.
The House-Senate agreement authorizes $724.5 million to develop the Midgetman, a small mobile missile that Democrats advocate as the next generation of nuclear weaponry after the MX. The figure is $100 million more than the Administration had sought and the Senate approved but $50 million less than was authorized in the Democratic-controlled House.
Republican senators who oppose the Midgetman, led by Pete Wilson of California, said that, despite the increased funding, they are satisfied because committee members agreed to require reports on the program by the Air Force and the Defense Science Board before fiscal 1987.
Wilson last week released a General Accounting Office report alleging that the Midgetman could cost more than twice as much as the MX, require territory twice the size of Utah for basing and need as many as 20,000 persons to operate it.
Compromise on Tests
Meanwhile, the agreement allowing three anti-satellite tests appeared to be an even compromise between the House and Senate. The House would have banned anti-satellite weapons tests altogether, including those already authorized for later this year. But the Senate would have authorized unlimited tests once the President has certified that he is trying to negotiate a limit on such weapons with the Soviets.
No such certification requirement was retained by the conference committee.
The requirement for the Pentagon to consider purchase of the F-20 originated in the House-passed version. The Air Force has requested approval to buy General Dynamics' F-16s for $19 million each--even though Northrop has made an unsolicited offer to sell the roughly comparable F-20s at a price of $15 million each.
The conference committee still must resolve disagreements over measures to reform military procurement and the issue of resuming production of binary nerve gas.