In an effort to undercut a developing move in Congress to resurrect the B-1 bomber. President Carter has reaffirmed his decision to halt production of the controversial airplane and emphasized he is not interested in full production of a less expensive bomber.
"I did not make the politically difficult decision to cancel the B-1 bomber so that I could build another less capable manned bomber." Carter wrote Rep. M. Robert Carr (D-Mich.).
"I am convinced that the decision was the correct one and that the cruise missile, carried by B-52s or specialized aircraft, is the best choice for the foreseeable future," Carter said.
At the same time, however, Carter said that "The penetrating bomber continues to be part of our strategic triad" of air-launched, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The White House did not elaborate on the letter yesterday. But Carr, a strong supporter of the decision to cancel the B-1, said in his opinion the letter "resolves all doubts" about Carter's stand on the manned bomber.
Carter's one-page letter, dated Friday came in response to an appeal signed by Carr and 37 other House members who supported his June 1 decision to cancel the $100 million-per-copy B-1.
The 38 members of Congress asked the President to clear up the House's confusion about the administration's posture toward manned bombers created by Defense Secretary Harold Brown's support in a Sept. 19 letter of a $20 million supplemental appropriation to study development of a less expensive bomber, the FB-111 H.
"I would emphasize that we have made no decision other than to study the possibility of the FB-111H being a viable option," Carter wrote. "We have not decided to develop nor to produce this or any other new manned bomber."
Noting it is "conceivable, though not likely, that future developments would necessitate" production of a new bomber, Carter said he would consult Congress before going ahead with development.
Carr said yesterday Carter's letter "resolves all doubts and knocks the props out from under anyone trying to revive the B-1. It's clear he wants both the B-1 and the FB-111H to be explored but not produced to be held on the shelf as insurance just in case the Soviets make some inconceivable breakthrough which threatens the cruise missile but not the manned bomber."
Carter's letter comes during a lull in the congressional debate over U.S. strategic policy.
The stage was set for a confrontation between supporters of the President's B-1 decision and a group of lawmakers determined to its central strategic role last Friday, when the House was scheduled to vote on an amendment to restore $1.4 billion to produce the warplane.
The confrontation never materialized, however because House Speaker Thomas P.(Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). and Chairman George H. Mahon (D-Fe). of the House House appropriations committee decided to put the vote off until late this week.
The decision led the sponsor of the amendment to restore the B-1. Rep. Robert L. F. Sikes (D-Fla.), to speculate that anti-B-1 force did not have the votes last week to make Carter's decision stick.
Yesterday, Mahon said he does not think the House will repudiate Carter. "The issue of the B-1 is somewhat clauded," he said. "The B-1 has been canceled, thousands of employees have been laid off and I am of the opinion that Congress will not provide for full development of the B-1."
He did not totally rule out eventual production of the FB-111H, which would be manufacuted by General Dynamics Corp. in his home state, Texas.
"A $20 million study would seem adequate to fully explore the possibility" of using the FB-111H. Mahon said "I do not think it at all proper to cross the bridge at this point and go to full scale production."
Neither Sikes nor Rep. Samuel Stratton (D-N.Y.). another strong supporter of the manned bomber concept, could be reached for comment yesterday.