The Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday authorized the procurement next year of components for a neutron warhead for the Lance missile without a presidential decision to go ahead with production of the controversial new generation of tactical nuclear weapons.
The action was taken as the committee reported for Senate floor action the fiscal 1979 authorization bill for the Department of Energy's military weapons program.
According to one congressional source, the committee voted over-whelmingly for the neutron components to give the president "as much leverage as possible" in seeking some arms concession from the Soviet Union for not producing the weapons.
On April 7, Carter announced that he was deferring production of the neutron Lance warhead and 8-inch artillery shells to see if he could get some similar arms restraint from the Soviets.
Critics of the president who favor building neutron weapons said at the time that no concession would be forthcoming unless the Soviets were convinced that Carter was going to build the weapons.
If approved by Congress, procurement of the neutron components would also put additional pressure on Carter to make a production decision should no Soviet response be immediately forthcoming.
Yesterday's action reflects continued support for neutron weapons on Capitol Hill. On May 17, the House rejected by a 306-to-90 vote an attempt to bar neutron weapon production next year.
The House also dropped a provision in current law that gives Congress a 45-day period to veto a presidential decision to produce neutron weapons. The Senate committee, during its two-day markup, never considered such a provision.
The committee action came on the eve of a speech by Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko before the U.N. special session on disarmament. Gromyko is expected to continue the Soviet campaign against neutron weapons by calling for all countries to renounce plans for their production.
Unlike tactical nuclear shells and warheads now deployed in Europe, neutron weapons are designed to kill enemy tank forces and troops primarily through radiation rather than by blast and heat.
In other actions on the DOE authorization bill, the Senate committee:
Deferred funds for the SM2 nuclear warhead designed to go with the Navy's ship-to-air AEGIS missile system. This amendment by Sen. John C. Culver (D-Iowa) was approved because the Carter White House had not supplied an arms control impact statement on the SM2 as required by law. The impact statement has been delayed because of an interagency fight over whether the nuclear warhead is needed.
Approved critical report language that takes the Carter White House to task for its failure to keep Congress fully informed on its nuclear weapons building program.
One instance to be cited is the president's decision to defer production of the B77 strategic nuclear bomb, designed originally to be carried by the B1 bomber. Congress, according to the committee, was not officially informed of that action until last month.
The committee is said to be angered that neither it nor even the DOE, which builds the nuclear warheads, has been informed of Carter's neutron decision by other than a news release. The Pentagon, according to one congressional source, has yet to decide on how to proceed with the "modernization" described by Carter April 7 of the aging nuclear shells now in Europe.