Defense Department silence on the Gramm-Rudman balanced-budget proposal dooms any chance that Congress will restore recent defense cuts or approve supplemental funds to offset alleged Soviet violations of the SALT II arms pact, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said yesterday.
His forecast came as Pentagon officials protested recent House Appropriations Committee reductions in the fiscal 1986 military budget and said they are considering a request for as much as $5 billion extra to upgrade U.S. strategic forces.
Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. sent what he termed a "heartburn" memo to Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger last week protesting the committee cuts and urging Weinberger to appeal for restoration of many of them.
"Tell him to hold onto his hat," Aspin said in reference to the Lehman memo. "Wait until he sees what Gramm-Rudman would do" to the Navy.
The legislation, named after sponsoring Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), would trigger spending reductions whenever total government spending exceeded income by more than allowed under a deficit-reduction formula.
If the legislation were currently in force, Aspin said, the Navy would lose "as many as 16 of the 26 ships" in its current annual shipbuilding program.
"Where is Lehman on Gramm-Rudman?" Aspin asked in an interview. Over the weekend, he assailed Weinberger for not speaking out on the impact the measure would have on national defense. Administration officials are constrained by President Reagan's endorsement of Gramm-Rudman.
Aspin said he has heard that the Pentagon may request between $4 billion and $5 billion after next month's summit between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to respond to what the administration has said are Soviet violations of the SALT II arms pact.
In telling Congress June 10 that he would abide by weapons limits in the treaty, Reagan reserved the right to upgrade strategic forces to offset the Soviet violations.
If the administration does send a supplemental request for strategic funds to Congress this year after endorsing Gramm-Rudman, "I'm going to tell them to shove it," Aspin said. "You're not serious people," he said, to ask for extra money in the current environment generated by the anti-deficit bill.
Lehman complained in his memo that the House panel squeezed allowances for inflation out of the Navy budget and changed other financial estimates that could cost the Navy as much as $10 billion in various contingency accounts, including a requirement to cover much of the military pay raise.
He also warned Weinberger that the committee cuts could reduce performance of the attack submarine fleet, particularly the SSN21 being developed.
The panel cut $183.6 million from submarine detection, propulsion and weapons systems, Lehman wrote. That would preclude planned improvements on the older, Los Angeles-class attack subs under construction and "increase the risk" of delaying the SSN21, he wrote.
The appropriations bill forbids the Navy to spend money for CG47 and DDG51 warships until after their components are put up for competitive bidding, Lehman said.
This requirement "is a severe example of a congressional impediment to orderly program execution," Lehman said. Not all of the components will be ready for bidding in fiscal 1986, he said.
Waiting until they are will delay ship construction and result "in a costly disruption of work in two shipyards that have been true competitors," he wrote, urging Weinberger to lobby for restoration of the cuts.