Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) yesterday suggested how more than $3 billion could be cut from President Reagan's proposed defense budget for next year and how more than $26 billion could be saved over the next five years of the president's long-range plan.
The claims by Durenberger are laid out in a 195-page critique of defense spending, by far the most detailed analysis offered by either Democrats or other Republicans in Congress troubled by the dimensions of Reagan's proposed $216 billion in military spending for next year and $1.4 trillion over the next five years.
An aide to Durenberger said yesterday that the senator began working on his "white paper" after a presidential speech in September called for an additional 12 percent cut across the board in all federal programs except defense.
It was then, the aide said, that Durenberger became convinced that defense policies must be developed before huge budget requests are made, rather than the other way around.
In a statement, Durenberger said he believes the nation's defenses can be strengthened while spending "far fewer dollars" than the Pentagon proposes if guided by "objectives and priorities."
He cautioned, however, that his suggestions should not be viewed as "a hit list" of spending cuts. "I'm a senator, not an engineer," he said.
Durenberger said his analysis is based on a handful of guidelines.
One is that we need a strong Navy and mobility for our forces. Another is that we need readiness of existing forces more than new weapons or expansion. Third, he said, general purpose forces are more in need of attention than nuclear because our nuclear arsenal remains awesome and it is conventional forces that are more likely to be needed.
Among the specific cuts he proposed is elimination of the plan to put nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on ships and submarines. He claimed this plan has not been well thought out and that the weapons will reduce the effectiveness of attack submarines armed with other weapons.
He called the plan to add five additional squadrons of F15 fighters and six more airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes for defense of the United States against enemy bomber attack "strategically meaningless and a waste of money" in an age when missiles are the real threat.
He called for deactivating the Army's 7th Division, which is the "weakest" in the force and well below strength, he claimed. Its troops should be used to bring other units up to full strength.
Durenberger joined other congressional critics in calling for either a reduction in funding or cancellation of the Army's AH64 advanced attack helicopter, which is meant to carry what the senator claimed is the trouble-plagued Hellfire antitank missile.
Other critics have said the AH64 is a good helicopter but even Defense officials have called its cost outrageous.
Durenberger also called for making new aircraft carriers oil-fired rather than nuclear-powered at a savings of $1 billion each and of building many more diesel-powered submarines rather than fewer of the costly nuclear-powered variety.
He argued that there are many missions that diesels can do and where nuclear-powered undersea craft are not needed.
Durenberger also called for cancellation of the Navy's controversial F/A18 jet fighter-bomber, whose cost growth he called "phenomenal."
He said the existing F14 is a better fighter, but acknowledged that savings might be all but wiped out by the need also to buy other substitute attack planes.