The Senate Armed Services Committee, in the first clear signal of congressional intentions to carry through with deep cuts in the 1991 defense budget, yesterday sliced 100,000 troops and several major strategic and conventional weapon systems totaling $18 billion from the administration's $306 billion military funding proposal.

The committee, responding to deficit-cutting demands and a reduced threat of conventional and nuclear war with the Soviet Union, eliminated costly strategic and tactical weapon spending programs, and slowed production and development of other key projects in President Bush's proposed budget.

The panel voted to kill the controversial $1 billion Milstar satellite program designed to provide global communications in nuclear war and the Army's new air-defense missile system and to eliminate production funds for the rail-garrison MX intercontinental ballistic missile, leaving only research money for the system. It also voted to hack $1 billion from the president's $4.6 billion Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) request.

"This is the most sweeping degree of change we've seen in a defense bill that I've had anything to do with since I've been in the Senate," said Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the panel, which finished closed-door deliberations at 1:15 a.m. yesterday after a 16-hour session.

But the committee's proposed $289 billion budget makes the shallowest cuts of all the military spending proposals under consideration in Congress and is only the first volley in what is expected to be one of the most contentious defense budget debates in recent years. The Senate Budget Committee, now at political war with the Armed Services Committee, has voted to slash $21.4 billion from the president's plan and the House budget resolution would cut $23.9 billion.

Those figures are further entangled in the budget summit struggle between congressional and administration leaders who are attempting to negotiate an acceptable spending level for the federal budget, which likely will result in different numbers from those under discussion for the Defense Department's share of the federal budget.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) has not even established a firm date for his panel to begin drafting its version of the defense authorization bill.

"Before it's over, there's going to be blood all over the floor," said one congressional staffer involved in the process.

While it made several controversial cuts, the Senate Armed Services Committee also left one of the Pentagon's most-debated requests intact, accepting two B-2 "stealth" bombers at a cost of $1.9 billion.

But committee members said the most-heated debates have been reserved for the Senate floor.

"Brewing in the wings is a very heartfelt debate on SDI," said the panel's ranking Republican member, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), who supports Bush's full request for the research and development effort to deploy a space-based missile defense. "We reached a gentleman's agreement last night that we would not vote the issues related to SDI in committee."

Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) said he plans to attempt to kill the B-2 bomber request when the bill reaches the floor.

The committee, during closed sessions this week, carved its version of how the Pentagon should begin restructuring forces and redistributing spending in coming years.

"We're sacrificing Europe-oriented programs in favor of more-versatile systems," Cohen said.

The bitterest debate in committee occurred over the Pentagon's Milstar satellite system, the only vote that split down party lines, according to several senators. Democrats argued that a changing European and Soviet environment has rendered the system unnecessary, while Republicans attempted to salvage the program.

"It's an essential link if we're going ahead with buying the component parts -- the B-2, modernized ground-based {intercontinental ballistic} missiles and the Trident {missile-carrying} submarine," Warner said. "We should have the best possible communications system to link those units under firm command and control."

Nunn and Warner, in announcing the committee's decisions, said the panel pursued several key themes in its deliberations:

A proposed 100,000 reduction in active duty troops, almost three times the 38,000 troops the Pentagon had proposed. The cuts would include a 50,000 reduction of force levels in Europe. A proposal by some members for unilateral troop cuts in Korea was rejected.

Proposed maintaining nuclear deterrence at lower levels by funding the research and development requests for the Midgetman and rail-mobile MX missiles, but cutting $1.3 billion that would be used to buy the first rail launchers. That action does not differ significantly from new strategic plans being drafted by the Bush administration in a National Security Directive, according to sources.

Recommended slowing some major programs to allow greater testing before the weapons are purchased. The panel voted to stop full-scale development of the Army's high-priority Light Helicopter program and the Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter. It delayed procurement of the C-17 transport plane because of testing delays, saving $1.8 billion in the 1991 budget, and the Navy's A-12 attack aircraft, a classified program with serious technical problems.

Reduced the Pentagon's training and operations request by $400 million "because of the diminished threat and increased warning times."

The committee also deleted $65 million sought by the Energy Department to begin work on a $571 million plutonium processing facility at its Rocky Flats, Colo., plant, a facility that DOE officials argue is needed to ensure an adequate supply of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

But, in on one of the most-lobbied weapon systems in the budget, the committee voted to authorize $238 million for continued research and development on the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft which Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney has tried to kill the past two years.

..................ON THE DEFENSE CHOPPING BLOCK...................



....................................Bush Proposal.Committee Action

Milstar satellite...................$1 billion....Terminated

Army ADATS air defense missile......$236 million..Terminated

Strategic Defense Initiative........$4.6 billion..$3.6 billion

A-12 Navy attack plane..............Classified....0*

Air Force Advanced Tactical Fighter.$283 million..0**

C-17 transport aircraft.............$1.7 million..$300 million

MX rail-garrison missile............$1.5 billion..$548 million***

*Procurement funds. **Full-scale development. ***Research and development only.