The Senate and House Armed Services Committees for the first time have directed the Pentagon to step up efforts to develop a cruise missile with a non-nuclear warhead for Europe.
The idea is base an accurate cruise missile on the ground in West Germany to blunt a Warsaw Pact attack without resorting to nuclear weapons.
Senate backers of the non-nuclear cruise missile for Europe contend it could relieve NATO aircraft of the job of knocking out bridges and other hard-to-hit targets and thereby avoid risking pilots' lives and worries about bad weather.
Soviet leaders have expressed alarm about their World War II enemy , West Germany, receiving American-made cruise missiles that can carry either a non-nuclear or nuclear warhead, arguing that the latter would pose a strategic threat which must be covered in any U.S. Soviet strategic arms contril agreement.
Although a non-nuclear cruise missile based in West Germany would be less worrisome than a nuclear one to the Russians, it would be difficult to tell what the warhead was because both versions of the missile look the same from the outside.
The cruise missile eyed for the NATO role is the Tomahawk being flight-tested by the Navy. Its guidance system includes a computerized map to check the flight path against the terrain below, making course corrections as the missile flies along.
The Air Force would operate the land-based version of the Tomahawk.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees, in duplicate reports filed yesterday and Monday on their compromise money bill for fiscal 1978, recommended generous funding for other cruise missile developments.
The compromise money bill authorizes $349 million for developing cruise missiles that could be fired from the ground, from airplanes, and from ships and submarines. The House originally cut the Pentagon's request for $362 million before agreeing with the Senate on the higher figure.
Besides directing developments of a ground-based cruise missile with a non-nuclear warhead, the conference report directs th Pentagon to put high priority on building an anti-ship vdfsion of the Tomahawk for the Navy. It also instructs the Air Force to perfect the short-range version of its air lanched cruise missile before plunging ahead with a longer-range weapon.
The short-range Air Force missile is called ALCM A for airplane cruise missile. It would fly about 700 miles while ALCM B would have a range of about 2,000 miles. Former Deputy Defense Secretary William P. Clements Jr. favored putting such emphasis on developing the ALCM B as on the shorter range missile.
The Air Force cruise missile could be fired either from B-52 bombers already in service or the B-1 bomber now being produced in limited quantities until President Carter decides its future.
Air Force leaders in past years showed little enthusiasm for cruise missiles, apparently fearing they would lessen chances of obtaining money for new bombers. But they are now arguing that the cruise missile has a place on the B-1 bomber and should not be considered a substitute for it.
Lt. Gen Alton D. Slay, head of Air Force research, told the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring that "the B-1 would have tremendous flexibility carrying , say, eight free-all weapons in one bomb bay; eight SRAM (short-range attack missiles) in one bomb bay and eight short ALCM in another bomb bay."
Opponents of the B-1 have argued that the B-52 or modified civilian transports, armed with cruise missiles are all that would be needed to fulfill the deterrent role of bombers on the 1980s and beyond.