The Soviet military effort over the last 15 years has been one of "surprisingly steady" growth rather than a crash buildup reminiscent of Nazi Germany, said Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.) on the basis of a detailed study of international armament trends.

Aspin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former Pentagon analyst, said the scare rhetoric comparing the current Soviet military buildup to that of Nazi Germany before World War II is not supported by the facts.

"The evidence pulls the rug out from under those who see a parallel with Nazi Germany," said Aspin in releasing a 20-page study with 19 charts showing armament trends.

Gen. David C. Jones, Air Force chief of staff, and the Committee on the Present Danger, citizens' lobbying group, have asserted that the Soviet military buildup is reminiscent of Nazi Germany's.

Said Aspin: "The Nazi expansion dwarfs the Soviet expansion by every measur," with Nazi military spending just before World War II shooting up by 868 per cent compared with "only 13 per cent" by the Soviet Union between 1972 and 1976.

Declaring his study does not show "the Russians are friendly fellows," Aspin said 14 different measurements show that confronting the West is not the main force driving the Soviet rise in military spending.

More powerful driving forces, he said, include the Soviet desire "to hold onto her Eastern European allies"; the "growing challenge" of China; and the "insatiable appetite" of the Soviet military bureaucracy.

The armament trends, Aspin said, show the following: Soviet military spending has risen about 3 per cent annually in recent years while the U.S. pattern has been an "erratic" one over the last 30 years of "soar or slash."

The Soviet military spending increases have stemmed primarily from investing a fixed percentage of the growing national income in defense rather than changing the priorities between guns and butter, Aspin said.

The Soviets, he said, have been producing "only a little more" aircraft, tanks and submarines than they need to replace those that wear out. (Aspin's report did not address in detail the Soviet strategic missile buildup, which has been cited as a source of concern of U.S. leaders.)

Focusing only on U.S. and Soviet military spending since 1968 could give "a pretty frightening picture," Aspin said, but the picture does not hold true in a longer look at the U.S. and Soviet spending trends.

The big difference in recent U.S. and Soviet military spending, Aspin said, "is caused more by a drop on our side than by a jump on theirs." He added that the U.S. drop is attributable mainly to the Vietnam disengagement.

"While reasonable men can disagree over the validity of any single kind of measurement," Aspin said. "14 different measures" - including spending, production rates and comparative forces - "all show the Russian expansion to be far from dramatic."