A fight is building over a recent White House decision to deny production money for the short-ranged cruise missile designed to hit land targets.
Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said in an interview yesterday that "I have been informed" about the decision and "consider it the wrong signal to send to the Russians at this time."
He theorized that there is a link between the production delay and the strategic arms limitations treaty (SALT) talks. He said he could not be sure of this because the Carter administration has not yet briefed him on what is in the final version of the proposed treaty.
Administration officials have said that any cruise missile based on land, ships or submarines and deployed for ground attack would be limited to a range of about 360 miles for the first three years of a SALT II agreement.
Although the range of those land and sea-based cruise missiles presumably could be lengthened after that three-year period, Jackson argued that failing to provide production money for those weapons would signal Moscow that the United States had no intention to deploy them in the future.
The White House Office of Management and Budget, in going over the Pentagon's Fiscal 1980 budget, now in the final stages of preparation, denied the requests for the cruise missile production money, Jackson said.
OMB officials declined to comment on whether the cruise missile money had been denied.
The Navy Tomahawk cruise missile, built by General Dynamics, is the weapon being developed for ships and submarines to launch against airfields and other military land targets. The Tomahawk also has been considered for land bases in West Germany.
If the White House denial of production money sticks, Jackson predicted a fight in Congress next year to reverse that decision. He said he would fight against the 360-mile-range limit anf for production money.
Critics of the land and sea-based cruise missiles for ground warefare content it would be follish to risk ships and subs to deliver a weapon an airplane could launch.
Under the proposed SALT II, cruise missiles with ranges of up to 1,500 miles could be carried by long-range bombers. Boeing and General Dynamics are competing for the Pentagon contracts to produce these air-launched cruise missiles.
Focusing on the shorter-ranged cruise missiles for land and attack, Jackson said "a new doctrine is emerging" for their use and that it would be a mistake to restrict the weapon's full potential is assessed.
Navy leaders are fighting to keep their land-attack cruise missiles alive, fearing the denial of production money in fiscal 1980 may be the first step toward cancelling the program. The new Pentagon budget does provide money for continuing research on the sea-based cruise missile, however.
The Tomahawk cruise missile has proved to be so accurate in tests, Navy backers argue, that it could be effective for blowing up enemy runways even when armed with TNT-type explosives rather than nuclear warheads.
Such a nonnuclear cruise missile could be carried along with nuclear-tipped missiles by ships and subs to provide the president more nonnuclear options to blunt a Soviet attack on Europe, Navy advocates contend.
"The point is that the accuracy of the cruise missile is so good that it could be used to release our manned aircraft for other missions that would not be as hazardous for the crews," Jackson said in contending that the land-attack cruise missile deserves a hard look before being forced out of the U.S. arsenal.
In another dispute over weaponary. Sen. Gart Hart (D. Colo.) yesterday assailed Defense Secretary Harold Brown for persuading House and Senate conferees to delete small-carrier money from the fiscal 1979 defense appropriations bill. The Mini-carriers Hart championed would be used by planes that could take off from a short stretch of check.
The deletion of the money in the final version of the bill "destroyed the nation's best chance to build a new and effective Navy," Hart said.