The House and Senate Armed Services Committees yesterday put their stamps of approval on President Carter's decision to build the MX nuclear blockbuster missile.
The committees did this by adding language to the compromise version of the bill authorizing $2 billion in supplemental funds to finance Pentagon programs in fiscal 1979.
In what veteran committee staffers said was a first, the bill states that "it is the sense of the Congress that maintaining a survivable land-based intercontinental ballistic missile system is vital to the security of the United States . . ."
As Carter was considering what to do to combat the growing Soviet threat to land missiles, a minority view held that moving more of the U.S. nuclear arsensal to sea in submarines made more sense than building a mobile missile like the MX. The President opted for the MX.
Language added to the compromise bill also directs the President to go full speed ahead with not only the MX missile, but its basing system as well. The Air Force proposal to deploy 200 MX missiles with a field of about 4,000 identical underground silos is described as the preferred scheme in the bill.
Soviet negotiators have contended that arms control agreements traditionally count vertical silos as launchers in determining how many strategic weapons each side has deployed. Under the Soviet interpretation, all 4,000 vertical silos should be counted as launchers.
Partly in response to this Soviet argument the Pentagon proposed that the MX be transported from one shelter to another in a horizontal position. Such shelters could not be construed as launchers, it was claimed, and the missiles would be easy for Soviet satellites to see.
Senators on the conference committee managed to give Carter more latitude in deploying the MX by stating in the report on the final bill that their "understanding" is that both vertical and horizontal deployment of the MX would be acceptable. However, if the Pentagon rejected the vertical shelter plan favored by the Air Force, the House and Senate in their conference report state that the defense secretary shall submit "full justification" for his choice to the Congress.
The compromise fiscal 1979 defense supplemental authorization also provided for the following:
Iranian destroyers - Chairman John Stennis (D-Miss.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee prevailed here as the final bill authorizes four destroyers, costing $1.35 billion, for the U.S. Navy that had been destined for Iran. The rival House bill had authorized only two destroyers, costing $628 million.
Trident II missile - The $20 million that the Pentagon had requested for this new missile, which is accurate and powerful enough to destroy Soviet missiles in their silos was deleted, House conferees argued that the Navy had not justified the need for this new submarine missile, which could end up costing $8 billion to $10 billion.
Pershing II battlefield missile - The compromise bill provides $30 million to develop this nuclear missile, which would be given enough range to hit targets in the Soviet Union from positions in West Germany.
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty - The House prevailed here, deleting the $24 million Carter had requested to investigate ways to make a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing a minimum risk from the standpoint of military research. The Senate had included the $24 million, but went along with the House in the conference in the compromise bill.