Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), proposing to cut defense programs by up to $255 billion over five years, began detailing Friday the first comprehensive alternative to the Bush Administration's plans for reshaping the nation's military.
Nunn, who wields considerable clout in both Congress and the Pentagon, recommended restructuring the "Star Wars" anti-missile program, slowing the MX and Midgetman mobile missile systems and restricting production of the B-2 Stealth bomber pending further tests.
In his most dramatic proposal, Nunn called for a series of "constructive competitions" between the services to reduce overlapping roles and missions. For example, Army attack helicopters might "fight it out" with Air Force fixed-wing aircraft to determine the best provider of close air support for ground troops, he suggested.
In a Senate floor speech, Nunn also proposed substantially increasing the use of reserve troops and accelerating the retirement of up to 28 classes of planes, tanks and ships.
He also urged a return to the "fly before buy" concept, which could mean greatly reduced purchases of up to 17 new weapons systems, including the C-17 transport plane, Advanced Tactical Fighter and SSN-21 submarine.
The senator recommended slashing President Bush's fiscal 1991 defense request by about $10 billion in 1991 outlays and about $26 billion in long-term spending authorizations. Outlays are actual expenditures that occur in the 1991 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Authorizations are spending figures for programs that may spill over into future fiscal years.
Although he had proposed deep cuts in troop and ship levels a day earlier, he said he was saving other details for another speech on the subject of tailoring U.S. defenses to a significantly reduced Soviet threat.
Because Nunn's proposals are based on detailed analysis and are made by a respected centrist, they are expected to weigh heavily in deliberations on the 1991 budget, which takes effect next Oct. 1.
Nunn's proposal to limit 1991 defense outlays to about $297 billion and defense budget authorizations to about $290 billion falls between Bush's defense blueprint and a plan approved Thursday by the House Budget Committee.
But the budget process is just beginning, with Nunn's committee and four other panels yet to take action, and eventually a compromise probably will be struck by Administration and congressional negotiators.
Meanwhile, White House Budget Director Richard G. Darman on Friday dismissed the various Democratic proposals to fashion a spending plan that sharply cuts defense outlays as "not implementable." He predicted that lawmakers will support "within a matter of weeks" the White House bid to launch private negotiations over the 1991 budget.
Darman, in a briefing with reporters, raised the ante on any such negotiations, arguing that recent economic information now requires overall budget reductions of roughly $45 billion, rather than the $36 billion proposed earlier by the White House.
Nunn took the position of other Democratic congressional leaders that the "peace dividend" from defense budget cuts should be relatively small in the first year--largely for technical reasons--but could grow tremendously after that.
He projected that over five years, his "new military strategy" could save $180 billion to $190 billion in defense outlays and $225 billion to $255 billion in budget authorizations by paring current spending levels, adjusted for inflation.
Nunn called for funding the Strategic Defense Initiative, or "Star Wars," at the current $3.8-billion level, while redirecting research toward narrowing the program's goals. Bush is seeking a $900-million increase.
The senator also advocated slowing development of rail-mobile MX missiles while talks proceed with the Soviets on possibly banning such long-range, multiple-warhead nuclear weapons. At the same time, he suggested initially deploying the single-warhead Midgetman in silos, reserving planned deployment on trucks until arms control talks are completed.
On the B-2, Nunn said he would await results of a Pentagon review, due Thursday, of plans to build 132 of the radar-eluding bombers for $77 billion.
But he said that "the B-2 must be adequately tested before we commit to increase the production rate" above the two to three per year authorized by Congress in the past. Bush wants to build five B-2s in 1991.
In his suggestions for competition among the services, Nunn proposed comparing the performance of Navy carrier groups against Air Force long-range bombers, and the effectiveness of Army and Air Force rapid deployment forces against those of the Marines and Navy.
He suggested pitting active forces against reserves to gauge their effectiveness in the areas of battlefield air support, battlefield air interdiction, air superiority, tactical airlift and anti-submarine warfare patrol.
Nunn also proposed comparing Air Force Stealth aircraft with Navy carrier-based aircraft "to test the advertised performance and capabilities of the systems."
"The Army and the Marine Corps need to go on a diet," Nunn said, pushing for lighter, more lethal forces. "We have the technological potential to permit (the two services) to get the weight of their combat forces back to 1980 levels by the year 2000, and with improved firepower and survivability."
Staff writer Tom Redburn contributed to this report.
DEFENSE BUDGET PROPOSALS Fiscal 1991 Budget Authority (in billions of dollars) Current programs, adjusted for inflation*: 315.8 President Bush: 306.9 Sen. Nunn: 288.8-290.8 House Budget Committee: 283.0 * Source: Congressional Budget Office