Panel Trims ‘Star Wars’ by $1.3 Billion

Times Staff Writer

The Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday trimmed more than $1.3 billion from President Reagan’s budget request for his “Star Wars” space-based missile defense system--a cut that White House officials said would “undermine our entire response to the Soviet strategic threat.”

By a vote of 10 to 9, the committee agreed to $3.95 billion for continued research and development of the program--all but $356 million of which will be spent by the Pentagon. Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Me.) joined with nine Democrats to approve the cut.

The money was part of a $301-billion defense authorization bill that was approved by the committee for the 1987 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1. Despite the committee action, the total amount of the 1987 defense budget is still very much at issue in Congress.

28% Increase


While the amount allocated by the committee for “Star Wars” represents a 28% increase over this year’s funding level, it is far less than the $5.3 billion requested by the President. Committee members said the cut reflects current budget constraints, as well as growing skepticism among many lawmakers about the feasibility of “Star Wars,” known officially as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI).

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said congressional cuts in the program would prevent the United States from determining within the next decade whether to deploy a space-based missile defense. He also charged that it would “undermine our entire response to the Soviet strategic threat, including arms control.”

California Sen. Pete Wilson, a Republican member of the committee, said the Senate panel “cut too much out of strategic programs that affect our deterrent capability and our arms control negotiating position--especially SDI.”

Carefully Crafted


But Cohen and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) told reporters that the cut in “Star Wars” funding was carefully crafted in hope of foreclosing further cuts in the program as the measure proceeds through the legislative process. Nunn described it as “a positive way to try and save the program from itself.”

A House subcommittee already has trimmed the fiscal 1987 “Star Wars” spending level to about $3.6 billion--including about $200 million to be spent by the Energy Department--and 46 senators recently signed a letter calling for appropriating no more than $3.2 billion.

Nunn said that the President has oversold the “Star Wars” program by portraying it “just like a roof” that would protect the country against all incoming nuclear missiles--a concept rejected as unrealistic by most scientists and lawmakers. “The lack of a concept is what has crippled the program,” he added.

Soviets Demanding Ban


Cohen noted that many members of Congress also fear that Reagan wants to proceed with “Star Wars” at the expense of an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union. Soviet negotiators at the Geneva arms control talks are demanding a ban on space-based defensive systems in exchange for reductions of strategic nuclear weapons.

The “Star Wars” spending level agreed to on Friday represented a compromise between $4.1 billion approved by a Senate subcommittee and a level of $3.7 billion sought by Nunn and Cohen. The committee agreed to set aside $487 million of the savings from “Star Wars” research to be invested in development of high-tech conventional weapons.

Nunn and Cohen, co-authors of the set-aside, said research on new conventional weapons has suffered at the expense of “Star Wars.” “Much too much attention has been focused on the ballistic missile threat,” Nunn said. “It is also important to be able to stop a tank.”

Committee Approved


The defense budget approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee also included:

--$700 million for the Midgetman small mobile missile--or half of what Reagan requested. House Democrats are pressing for full-scale development of the missile, which is opposed by Republicans such as Wilson.

--$1.42 billion for procurement of 21 MX missiles with the continued prohibition against deployment of more than 50 of them. The House is expected to approve procurement of only 12 missiles during fiscal 1987.

--Full funding for development of the super-secret Stealth bomber and advanced cruise missile. The budget expenditures for these programs are classified.


Anti-Satellite Weapons

--$28.5 million for research and procurement of anti-satellite weapons, and a repeal of the existing moratorium on ASAT testing against objects in space. The House is expected to continue to insist on a test ban.

--$1.12 billion for the binary chemical weapons program, including funding for production of the controversial Bigeye air-delivered bomb.