An influential group of Senate Armed Services Committee members yesterday proposed the first significant transfer of military science and technology -- including aircraft, ships and supercomputers -- to a new "strategic environmental research program" to confront what Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) called "the massive environmental problems facing our nation and world today."

Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams said the Pentagon had not reviewed the proposal, but noted that Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney has expressed strong interest in environmental research and, therefore, "obviously we like the direction {Nunn} goes in."

Although the cost and scope of the program was not defined, Nunn, the committee chairman, said in a speech on the Senate floor that he would propose in the 1991 budget mark-up next month the formation of a Defense Environmental Research Council to develop a five-year funding plan to transfer military forces and intelligence community hardware to:

Collect atmospheric, oceanographic and terrestrial data to study global warming and other "events that could rival a nuclear war in their destructive impact" on the environment.

Turn over some of the supercomputers used by the Defense and Energy departments in nuclear weapons research to "civilian research agencies" as a means to "dramatically increase the scientific community's computer capabilities to analyze data and to model and predict changes in the water and air."

Transfer technology to the civilian sector from "military programs dealing with advanced energy technologies, including new nuclear reactor designs, fusion energy and energy storage systems based on superconducting materials."

Use defense budget money to undertake a major environmental cleanup in recognition of the fact that the Defense and Energy departments "have created radioactive, toxic and mixed-waste dumps and repositories that pose the risk of major contamination of soil, ground water and surface waters."

Nunn said he is also looking "carefully into the possibility" of using Pentagon military research and development funds "for environmental research, in order to make greater use of the talents and innovative skills of defense contractors."

The Democratic initiative announced by Nunn was joined by Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.), J. James Exon (D-Neb.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Timothy E. Wirth (D-Colo.) and reflects a growing theme in Congress to broaden definition of "national security" to include threats to the environment, health and education.

"Philosophically, it's a watershed," said Gore, who has concentrated his Senate work and national political campaign around environmental issues.

"What's great about this is that Sam is really into it," said Wirth, who added that "the defense industry is really eager to get into this."

It was clear from their comments that a number of senators see such an initiative as softening the impact of military budget reductions on the defense industry while at the same time redirecting some activities of the military services by "piggybacking" environmental monitoring and research onto military routines.

The initiative also follows informal agreements, negotiated by Gore and others, to win Navy cooperation to study the North Polar icecap as an indicator of global warming using submarine sonar data. The Pentagon's Strategic Defense Initiative Organization also recently agreed to share computer time for atmospheric modeling in global warming research.

In his floor speech, Wirth quoted the director of business development at Martin Marietta Corp. as saying, "The same technology which produces sensors for the battlefield can produce environmental monitoring devices. The same computer whizzes who now model the interaction of troops in combat can model the interaction of chemical compounds in the atmosphere."

"If the industrialized nations are gong to be devoting 2 to 3 percent of their gross domestic product to environmental cleanup in the future," Nunn said, "I want it to be American technology that is used in this effort.

"Converting part of the defense establishment's technological know-how from defense to environmental protection can produce a competitive advantage in world markets for U.S. industries."