The White House has agreed to delay this week's scheduled test of the Navy's controversial new submarine-launched, intercontinental missile with 12 warheads until after the Senate confirmation hearings on Defense Secretary-designate Frank C. Carlucci, according to administration and congressional sources.
Carlucci, President Reagan's national security adviser, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Administration sources, who said last week that the test would take place this Thursday, confirmed the delay yesterday. Originally set for Nov. 5, it was postponed because it conflicted with the announcement of Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger's retirement.
Congressional sources said the latest delay came after Capitol Hill critics demanded postponement as part of the package of arms control compromises being worked out on the fiscal 1988 defense authorization bill. The critics contend that testing the new Trident II missile with more warheads than the eight it has carried would complicate arms control negotiations.
The Trident II test delay, along with arms control compromises Carlucci and White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. negotiated last week with congressional leaders on the defense spending bill, are now expected to be the subject of critical questioning of Carlucci by defense conservatives on the Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), the committee chairman, is expected to announce today the details of the arms control compromise package worked out with Carlucci. Administration sources say some of the compromise points have been criticized inside the administration by Weinberger aides.
According to congressional and administration sources, under the agreement:Congress would drop its language requiring that the administration adhere to the narrow interpretation of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. In return the Pentagon during the present fiscal year would carry out tests only on a list previously provided Congress by the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO), all of which would stay within the treaty's narrow interpretation. Congress also would drop its language calling for a return to the allowable limits of strategic weapons specified by the 1972 strategic arms limitation agreement. The administration, however, would dismantle a Poseidon submarine with 16 multiwarhead missiles, a step keeping the U.S. level of such missiles at just 20 above the treaty limits.
Two other controversial provisions were still being worked on last night but congressional sources said they would be solved as follows:The administration is expected to drop its opposition to a congressionally approved ban on testing a U.S. F15 fighter-launched antisatellite system, already in effect for two years. The administration first asked for two tests, then pushed to limit the ban to six months. Congress is expected to drop the House-passed prohibition on underground testing of all nuclear devices above 1 kiloton.
The final measure is expected to contain funds for additional experimentation on systems that would enable verification of a nuclear testing ban. In addition, the administration will agree to a final figure of $3.85 billion for SDI spending, an amount roughly midway between the totals passed by the two houses but substantially below the $5.7 billion sought by Reagan.
Nunn is expected to announce plans to bring the defense spending bill to the Senate floor on Friday, where it may face a filibuster by conservative legislators, according to congressional sources.
The Trident II test question could put Carlucci on the spot between pro-defense and pro-arms control legislators. Weinberger had pushed for the test over the objections of Ambassador Paul H. Nitze, the president's arms control adviser, administration sources said.
At issue was the system by which warheads are counted under past and possibly future U.S.-Soviet agreements. In the past, the largest number of warheads tested in a certain missile became the number counted for all such missiles.
Weinberger wanted a new system, arguing that the Soviets had missiles that can carry more than the largest number tested.
Carlucci may face questions about which approach he favors.