Two influential Republican senators from Utah and Nevada yesterday recommended scrapping Air Force plans to base the new MX missile in their states. They proposed deploying the missile in existing Minuteman missile silos and protecting it against Soviet attack by an anti-missiles defense system.
Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt, a close friend of President Reagan, and Utah Sen. Jake Garn combined their deployment scheme with a call for the United States to "make every effort" to get a "fair and verifiable" strategic arms reduction agreement with the Soviet Union "at the earliest possible date."
The two senators stressed that arms control ultimately was, as Garn told reporters, "the answer to this crazy game" of the United States and Soviet Union endlessly trying to build more shelters to protect missiles or more atomic warheads to destroy them.
The proposal was presented to Deputy Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci yesterday in Laxalt's office. The administration faces a crucial and difficult decision soon on where and how to deploy the MX.
The tentative, $35 billion Air Force plan approved during the Carter administration envisions shuttling 200 missiles among 4,600 underground shelters within several thousand square miles of Utah and Nevada.
A blue-ribbon panel of outside experts was set up in March by Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger to review all possibilities, and Carlucci said yesterday the panel will complete work in a day or two and report in a week or so.
Carlucci said the Laxalt-Garn recommendation would be considered in the final decision, which will be made by President Reagan.
The MX issue is especially sensitive for Laxalt and Garn, two strong supporters of Reagan and the Pentagon, because they must try to convince others that their objections are not based on local considerations. Garn claimed the major reason for rejecting the existing plan is not where MX is based.
He said it is because intelligence estimates show the Soviets could field enough warheads to overwhelm MX by the time it is deployed and a continued buildup to 14,000 Soviet warheads and continued expansion of MX shelters could push the MX cost to $83 billion by 1995. Some U.S. specialists doubt the Soviets would or could do this.
Laxalt and Garn argued the cost eventually might pose problems for other military programs.
Echoing a concern expressed in a report last week by the congressional Office of Technology Assessment they said it is far from a certain the Soviets will not be able to determine, with new satellite sensors, which MX shelter houses a missile instead of a dummy, thus negating the key factor on which the MX's survival depends.
The senators said all 200 MX missiles should be deployed in some of the 1,000 Minuteman silos and protected at least initially by 100 anti-missile missiles that can be deployed without breaking the 1972 U.S.-Soviet anti-ballistic missile treaty.
This would provide only minor disruption of a Soviet attack but, if no new SALT treaty can be ratified by 1986, Laxalt and Garn recommend the United States build a "full-fledged" anti-ballistic missile network.
Under questioning, Laxalt said he was "not convinced at all" that Reagan would decide not to go ahead with the Air Force plan involving Utah and Nevada. He said he is not prepared now to go against the president if Reagan chooses the Utah-Nevada plan.
"Whatever decision he [Reagan] comes to," Laxalt said, "is going to be highly persuasive with this senator."
The blue-ribbon panel, sources have said, may propose deploying only half of the MX missiles in Utah and Nevada along with utilizing several other programs, including deployment in Minuteman silos. Laxalt said putting only half of the MXs in Utah and Nevada solves nothing.
"There really is no good alternative," Garn said. "We've dug ourselves a pit . . . over 10 years and three administrations . . . by not going ahead much sooner with the MX and the B1 bomber."