Two of the Senate Democrats' defense specialists today attacked a move by Republicans to cut the Pentagon payroll by 175,000 over the next two years to help reduce deficits, saying the reduction would jeopardize vital defense operations.

The sharply worded response came from Sens. Sam Nunn (Ga.) and John Glenn (Ohio), influential members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, during a weekend retreat for Democratic senators to explore ways of redirecting their party after Democratic defeats in last November's elections.

The Republican-controlled Armed Services subcommittee on manpower voted Thursday along party lines to cut personnel -- both uniformed and civilian -- as a means of holding down defense spending and thereby cutting the deficit.

Glenn said the payroll-reduction proposal showed the Democrats are supporting a "stronger position on national defense than the Republicans."

Although Glenn's comments appeared aimed at dispelling charges by Republicans that Democrats are soft on defense, Glenn acknowledged that some Democrats on the Armed Services Committee favor bigger overall cuts in defense spending than the Republicans are proposing.

Many Democrats, including Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (W.Va.) in remarks at the end of the party conference, have proposed cutting Pentagon spending by cracking down on weapons-procurement costs.

Concentrating his fire on the personnel proposal, Glenn called it a "meat ax" approach to defense financing and charged that the cutbacks, if enacted, would undermine such critical defense operations as intelligence, communications and training.

Nunn said it is "preposterous" to suggest that personnel cuts of this size are necessary to achieve the deficit reductions proposed by the Senate Budget Committee for fiscal 1986, which specify that Pentagon spending should grow only to cover the costs of inflation.

"It was not dictated by the budget," added Nunn, who is the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

The personnel cuts proposed by the subcommittee, which Glenn said amounted to 10 percent in most areas, would require cuts of 75,000 in active-duty forces and 100,000 in the civilian defense work force during fiscal 1986 and 1987.

By contrast, President Reagan has proposed increasing active-duty forces by 27,000 and the civilian work force by 18,000.

Active-duty forces now number 2.15 million; the civilian payroll is slightly more than 1 million.

In approving the personnel cuts, the subcommittee was responding to instructions from Armed Services Committee Chairman Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) to prepare three alternative spending plans for fiscal 1986: zero growth after inflation, 3 percent growth and 4 percent growth. The zero growth proposal would require cuts of about $20 billion from Reagan's budget request, which anticipates after-inflation growth of about 6 percent.

While the subcommittee approved the personnel cuts as part of the zero-growth plan, it also indicated by voice vote that it preferred either of the two more generous plans, according to Glenn, who described the subcommittee's posture as "schizophrenic."

Glenn predicted that the full Armed Services Committee will reject the personnel-cutback proposal.

Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), who has been pushing the proposal for some time, has argued that it would cut fat, not muscle, and would force the Pentagon to reduce headquarters and support units, not combat forces.

But Glenn, alluding to such operations as communications, intelligence and training, said, "I can't honestly say I could cut 10 percent without hurting these programs."