Bush Would Slash U.S. Forces, Retain B-2, MX, Midgetman

From a Times Staff Writer

President Bush, disclosing a long-awaited strategic plan for the U.S. military, called for a five-year restructuring that would result in armed forces "at their lowest level since 1950."

But, in a major defense speech delivered to a conference sponsored by the Aspen Institute, Bush defended his Administration's plans to press ahead with several major high-cost weapons programs, including the B-2 Stealth bomber and two different new nuclear missiles--the rail-mobile MX and the Midgetman. The programs have been under attack in Congress, with the House Armed Services Committee this week voting to eliminate the B-2 and to halt spending to develop both of the missiles.

"The Soviets continue to maintain and modernize their arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons," Bush said. "We must keep our options open."

For months, ever since the dramatic reduction of tensions between Washington and Moscow and the end of Soviet control over Eastern Europe, critics have charged the Bush Administration with failing to provide a coherent picture of what military forces the United States needs and why. Bush's speech, based on a study by Gen. Colin L. Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was designed to meet that criticism.

The new plan would sharply reduce the overall size of U.S. forces and would shift resources away from the defense of Europe and toward flexible, fast-response teams capable of handling sudden threats to U.S. interests.

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