A freeze in defense spending next year; Allowing growth only for inflation, would not force cancellation of any weapons systems and would provide "significant increases" in many of them, according to an analysis by the minority Democratic staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
This disputes President Reagan's contention that any fiscal 1986 military budget providing less than 3 percent real growth would force cancellation of some weapons programs.
The analysis of the impact of a "zero real-growth" budget grew out of a version of such a budget that the Armed Services Committee considered April 4. Ultimately the Republican-dominated panel approved a 1986 spending level of 3 percent growth above inflation.
The report, expected to be released this week, said that at the zero real-growth level of $302.5 billion, purchases of aircraft would rise 6 percent over this year, purchases of missiles would increase 44 percent, and "not a single combatant ship" would be cut.
The analysis was prepared for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), a member of the panel's Democratic minority, but the totals of weapons that could be produced in a zero-growth budget were calculated by the full committee staff for the April 4 votes on a 1986 defense budget.
"About the only truly painful cuts" in procurement, Bingaman said in additional views to the panel's report, would come in a one-year delay in purchases of Army M1 tanks (buying 720 instead of 840 next year) and the field artillery ammunition support vehicle (production of 197 delayed a year).
Even those cuts probably could be avoided, Bingaman said, noting that Defense Department savings in other accounts this year easily covered the $400 million needed to pay for the extra tanks and support vehicles next year.
The committee approved spending $312.3 billion next year, 3 percent above this year's budget plus inflation -- the rate agreed upon by Reagan and the Senate Republican leadership in their budget compromise.
In his nationally televised speech Wednesday night, the president said 3 percent growth is "the rock-bottom level we must maintain for effective deterrence to protect our security." He added that even the 3 percent rise "would require canceling some programs . . . . "
The Armed Services Committee's zero-growth budget contradicts that assertion.
"We can afford to defer the marginal defense programs," Bingaman said, adding that even with the reductions "we would still be able to continue our defense modernization at a rapid pace."
On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told a group Friday "we are down to freeze time." The president's defense budget is "in deep political trouble," he said, because legislators "are worried about the deficit."
Aspin said the House Armed Services subcommittees will begin drafting legislation this week using the zero real-growth level as the target figure. But he said he expects the House Budget Committee to cut defense spending even further, down to the "nominal freeze" -- this year's spending total without an increase for inflation.
Aspin said Reagan's compromise with the Senate Republicans, which reduced his request for a 5.9 percent real increase in defense spending next year to 3 percent, put the president "lower than the defense budget that Fritz Mondale ran on last year." Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale proposed a 4 percent increase "and Reagan called him weak," Aspin said in a speech last week.
The Senate Armed Services panel's zero real-growth budget provides for the purchase next year of 791 combat and support aircraft, an increase of 42 over this year's total and 16 short of the administration's request.
Because of the "priority" the committee placed on missile/torpedo munitions, Bingaman noted, the zero real-growth budget makes almost no reductions in these programs. The full committee actually raised the administration's request, adding 150 Captor mines for the Navy, an item that is cut in the zero real-growth budget. Of 120,130 such munitions requested by the Pentagon, the zero real-growth budget would approve 120,118.
In shipbuilding, according to Bingaman, the only reductions involve four noncombatant ships -- postponing construction of two mine-countermeasure vessels and conversion of an oiler and a crane ship.
Taking a broader look at the defense budget process, Bingaman also called on the department to provide Congress with a revised budget, based on the lower spending level agreed to by the president, that would include reductions in the five years up to 1990.