Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger yesterday sent the White House a package of projected defense spending cuts, including trims in planned rapid deployment forces and a stretchout of weapons purchases, that he still hopes he will not be ordered to make.
Weinberger gave President Reagan a detailed list of cuts the Pentagon believes will be necessary if defense-spending authority for fiscal years 1983 and 1984 must be reduced by $50 billion, as Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman has urged, according to a high-level administration official.
But Weinberger also told the president that he believes defense spending can safely be trimmed by no more than $15 billion, this official added.
And in what apparently is a tactical ploy in the administration's intramural battle over the defense budget, Weinberger did not present the president with a similar detailed listing of how these $15 billion in spending-authority cuts could be achieved.
He preferred instead to pass this information on to the president when they meet, along with Stockman, for the final round of decision-making next Tuesday, the official said.
The president, meanwhile, is still prepared to make cuts of between $20 billion and $30 billion in defense spending in his effort to balance the budget by 1984, White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes said.
Reagan will arrive at his decision on a new series of budget cuts after what may be another week of deliberations with his Cabinet and staff, Speakes said.
The decision-making process appears to be carefully choreographed. After Tuesday's meeting with combatants Weinberger and Stockman, Reagan will make his decision on cuts in defense spending. He could make his decision the same day, Speakes said.
This decision will then be passed on to the Office of Management and Budget, which will take about three days deciding what additional cuts will be required in other departmental budgets to bring the budget into balance by 1984.
Stockman will then report back to Reagan, and the president will convene a Cabinet meeting, either next Friday or the following Monday, to announce his final budget decisions to the top officials of his administration.
Weinberger's report to the president was presented initially to presidential counselor Edwin Meese III by Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, who carried it Thursday night to Virginia Beach, where the longtime Reagan adviser is vacationing.
Another copy was delivered to the White House the next day, for study by chief of staff James A. Baker III and other presidential aides before it was sent on to the president, Speakes said.
Weinberger's report focused on ways that the Pentagon can meet the cuts Stockman has urged for fiscal years 1983 and 1984, but did not recommend any cuts in outlays for 1982, according to one high-level Reagan official.
"Weinberger is adamant that he does not want anything cut in '82," the official said. "The secretary's position is that we told the Congress we needed to go up in '82, and now we are not going to go back and say we made a mistake."
The reductions that Weinberger listed in his report on how the OMB recommendations could be met involve, in virtually every instance, no real cutback in present force levels, according to one high-level source.
They involve instead a scaling down of the large increases that Reagan had proposed in his earlier budget projections. Among the reductions contained in the Weinberger report that were outlined to The Washington Post yesterday:
The number of rapid-deployment brigades that could be sent to the Persian Gulf in the first month of a crisis would be four, instead of the nine Reagan originally planned to have ready by 1984. But the significance of this reduction is moderated by the fact that at present "we have just about none," said one Reagan official. In addition, Weinberger's projections would increase the number of brigades to nine a couple of years later.
The readying of SL7 container ships to transport the rapid deployment forces would be delayed a couple of years beyond 1983 and 1984.
Ammunition stockpiles for the rapid deployment forces would also be reduced. Stocks would be maintained to last ground forces 60 days, which is what the Carter administration had planned, instead of the 90 days that had been contemplated by the Reagan officials. Air Force ammunition would be stocked to last 45 days instead of 60, and Navy stocks would be trimmed to 25 days from 60.
The timetable for pre-positioning of materiel in Europe would be slowed. Presently there is materiel in place to equip four division, and plans were under way to equip a fifth and sixth division by 1984. The filling of these fifth and sixth sets would be delayed two years.
Also, the number of "maneuver battalions" would be reduced from the 207 proposed by Reagan originally to 188--but this 188, according to one senior administration official, is still "substantially above where we are now." In case of a crisis in Europe, the number of brigades that could be deployed within the first 10 days would be trimmed from 15 to nine.
One of the Army's 16 divisions would be eliminated, but this would be a cutback in military structure, not manpower, according to a high-level official. The division based at Fort Ord, Calif., which is not judged combat-ready, would lose its "flag status," and the personnel would be transferred to other divisions. Its status as a full division would be restored in a couple of years.
Weinberger's report on how the OMB cutbacks could be made also proposed early retirements for some of the military's most aged ships and planes, and a stretching out of purchases of new weaponry in the five years beginning in 1983.
Eighteen of the Navy's oldest ships would be retired early, as well as 144 jet fighters and all of the 80 remaining B52D bombers, the oldest bombers in the Air Force, which were going to be retired by the end of the decade and would instead be retired five years ahead of schedule.
The purchase of approximately 35 ships originally provided for in the Reagan budget would be delayed for five yearsuntil 1987, but there would still be funds to add 20 ships to the fleet strength as it stood a year ago. Purchases of approximately 400 to 500 jet fighters would also be delayed, but this would still leave the Air Force, Navy, and Marines with far more than the Carter administration had budgeted for them.
Purchases would also be delayed of 1,700 armored infantry fighting vehicles and approximately 1,500 tanks--a reduction from the 5,500 new tanks that the administration initially planned to buy.
These are the cuts that Weinberger says will be needed to meet the recommendations of Stockman-- recommendations that he has repeatedly argued against. Yesterday, presidential spokesman Speakes was asked if the White House believed Weinberger and Stockman were "on the same wave length."
"No," he replied, "the great feature of Cabinet government is that there are honest differences and debates."