The Soviet Union continued its unrelenting buildup of nuclear and conventional military forces during 1986, and it made the first reported tactical use of laser devices to temporarily blind pilots of surveillance aircraft, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
"We must realize that we are competing with a dynamic, and an expanding, Soviet military threat," Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said in releasing his department's sixth annual edition of "Soviet Military Power," a glossy publication that has become a mainstay in the Reagan Administration's efforts to sustain the U.S. military buildup.
Soviet military policies are unchanged, Weinberger added in a news conference broadcast to Europe and other allied nations by the U.S. Information Agency.
"They can have different kinds of general secretaries (of the Communist Party)--younger ones, healthier ones, better-dressed ones--but the policy remains exactly the same, and that is to accumulate enormous quantities of offensive military power, both conventional and nuclear," he said.
The Soviets' development of tactical laser weapons was mentioned only briefly in the report, but a Pentagon official disclosed in response to questions that they have used lasers in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
"There have been incidents of lasering against ground equipment and aircraft (that) have an impact, both in terms of blinding pilots and in terms of some battlefield casualties in terms of some physical burning," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The blinding was not permanent and did not involve U.S. pilots, according to the official, who gave no other details.
The Pentagon publication, in discussing the Soviets' "very large and well-funded" development of laser technology, said, "The tactical laser program has progressed to where battlefield laser weapons could soon be deployed with Soviet forces."
Already, it said, "recent Soviet irradiation of Free World manned surveillance aircraft and ships could have caused serious eye damage to observers." The booklet included a color photograph of an "electro-optic sensor laser device" on a Soviet warship and said without elaboration that it "has been used to irradiate Western patrol aircraft."
Weinberger, responding to questions at a Pentagon news conference, said that the United States has been experimenting with long-range lasers as part of its Strategic Defense Initiative intended to destroy Soviet missiles in the atmosphere. But he said it has not used lasers as short-range tactical weapons.
"We have no intention of doing that," he said.
Relentless Military Buildup
The publication, containing many elaborate charts and drawings as well as photographs of the latest Soviet weapons, used grim terms to describe a relentless military buildup.
Moscow was quick to respond to the booklet's findings. "This renewed variant of the Pentagon falsehood does not contain a grain of truth and impartiality," the Soviet news agency Tass said. "Everything is turned upside down in it."
Tass did not mention any of the booklet's specific assertions, but it said "the authors accuse the U.S.S.R., without furnishing any proof, of a drive for world domination and of aggressiveness."
The booklet said that the Soviets have built 3,000 intercontinental ballistic missiles while the United States has built 850; it has added 140,000 surface-to-air missiles compared with 16,200 added by the United States; it has fielded 24,400 tanks compared with 7,100 built by the United States, and it has launched 90 new submarines, more than twice as many as the United States.
"Because of the large Soviet advantage in numbers of troops and weapons, the West has in the past relied upon superior technology to ensure the continuance of an effective deterrent," Weinberger wrote in a preface to the report.
"Each year, however, we confront a more technologically advanced Soviet Union, which has been aided by theft and legal acquisition of Western technology and growing sophistication of the U.S.S.R.'s own scientific knowledge. Our technological lead is being increasingly challenged."
More Missiles Aimed at U.S.
The booklet estimated that by the mid-1990s, the Soviets will have placed in hardened silos or made mobile more than two-thirds of their long-range, land-based nuclear missiles. Within a year, it said, the Soviets will deploy the large, rail-mobile SS-X-24, each of which carries 10 warheads. And during the past year, it said, Moscow has increased from about 70 to more than 100 the number of mobile, single-warhead SS-25 missiles it has aimed at the United States.