The Air Force and Navy will bleed the Army white under the Carter administration's budget plans for the next five years, Army leaders and their champions in Congress are complaining as the new battle of the budget heats up.
The Army's two top leaders -- Secretary Clifford L. Alexander Jr. and Chief of Staff E. C. Meyer -- warn in a secret letter that the new funding decisions will have "the net result" of providing "for the wrong Army, prepared for the wrong war in the wrong decade."
Some congressional critics, after examining the Pentagon's new five-year plan for the military services, contend it represents a fundamental policy shift, a swing away from preparing for a big land war with Russia on the NATO front in favor of projecting power to distant places like the Persian Gulf.
The Army's share of the Pentagon dollar has declined in recent years, while the Navy and Air Force shares have risen. And under the new spending projections, these trends would continue.
"An irresponsible gamble," Chairman Dan Daniel (D-Va.) of the House NATO subcommittee charged last week after reviewing the way the Pentagon intends to apportion its money over the next five years.
"A conscious policy decision, which has not been surfaced to the Congress," asserted staff expert Justus P. White Jr. in briefing the subcommittee on what he considers an important shaping influence behind the Pentagon budget estimates for fiscal 1982 through 1986.
He said the "clear implication" is that the administration has decided "the risk of a land war is less, and that more funds should be channeled into projection of power."
Money to modernize the Army is being reduced so much, White said, that the service will not be able to fight the kind of big land war planners were talking about in the 1970s.
Using Pentagon figures that represent the latest planning but not necessarily the final military budget to be submitted to Congress in January, the subcommittee said Air Force and Navy spending will jump $10.4 billion each year from fiscal 1982 through 1986, while the Army increase in that period will be $4.9 billion, less than half.
Currently, the subcommittee added, the Army is getting 29.2 percent of the total Pentagon budget, the Air Force 33.9 percent, the Navy 36.9 percent. By fiscal 1986, under administration plans, the Army's share will drop to 25.8 percent while the Air Force's and Navy's will rise to 36 percent and 38.2 percent, respectively.
The Air Force intends to spend a big slice of its budget on the land-based MX missile while most of the Navy's billions in the procurement account will go for new ships.
Pentagon budget chiefs have chopped back on the Army's plans for buying a new family of antiaircraft missiles as part of their economizing. They deny, however, that their decisions represent a change in policy, citing larger purchases of new XM1 tanks as proof the Army is still being readied for the threat of land warfare along the NATO front.
The reason for shifting away from such Army programs is anitaircraft defense missiles, Pentagon witnesses said, was to pour more money into accounts which make weapons already in the arsenal more ready for combat, with bigger purchases of spare parts one example of this increased emphasis on readiness.
After the election, both the administration and Congress may change the five-year plan. Defense Secretary Harold Brown, stung by charges military forces are not ready to go to war, plans to make a speech later this week to rebut that criticism.