Pentagon leaders yesterday offered President Bush a list of military options for repelling a possible Iraqi invasion into Saudi Arabia that included U.S. air attacks against Iraqi military forces and critical targets inside Iraq, but did not recommend a major deployment of U.S. ground forces to the region, according to Pentagon officials.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin L. Powell proposed plans designed to bolster Saudi Arabia's relatively small military force if the 120,000 Iraqi troops now in Kuwait spill over the border into neighboring Saudi Arabia, officials said. U.S. military plans also include efforts to intimidate Iraq by striking key sites inside the country, such as the capital city of Baghdad, officials said.

"Carpet bombing is the phrase being used," said one Pentagon official familiar with the planning.

Military leaders prepared the attack plans as concerns heightened over Iraq's extensive resupply and reorganization of forces inside the tiny nation of Kuwait, leaving the troops well-prepared for an expanded assault into Saudi Arabia.

"They have the capability to do it {invade} at this moment," one Pentagon official said yesterday.

Most of the troops were located south and southwest of the Kuwaiti capital yesterday, about 10 miles from the Saudi Arabian border, officials said. A small number of troops had moved into the oil fields near the border, sources said.

In event of an attack on Saudi Arabia, the United States could deploy F-15 and F-16 fighters from bases in Spain and West Germany, F-111 bombers from airstrips in England and F-14 fighter planes and A-6 bombers off the carrier USS Independence which is scheduled to arrive in the region by late Sunday, officials said.

In addition, the Strategic Air Command's B-52 long-range bomber force, deployed at air bases in the United States, has conducted bombing exercises in the Egyptian desert in recent years and could be deployed for a major operation.

Military leaders have recommended against sending U.S. ground forces to the Mideast because the effort to ship enough troops and armor from the United States and other regions to the area could require at least 45 days to fully assemble. Pentagon officials said they would need a 2 to 1 troop ratio against Iraq "to be credible."

Pentagon officials also said yesterday the military has no plans to alert airborne or light infantry divisions for possible deployment to the region.

The United States has no significant numbers of troops or aircraft in the Middle East because of regional sensitivities to outside military presence. U.S. military air support would come only at the request of the Saudis who would be required to provide landing rights for the American planes, military authorities said.

The United States also could launch and refuel aircraft out of Turkey and Israel, military officials said.

U.S. Air Force officials noted, however, that Mideast weather and operating conditions are among the worst environments for sophisticated aircraft. The searing 120-degree heat, ocean salt and blowing sand impose severe strains on operation and maintenance of the aircraft and the thick summer haze in the region impairs visibility. Atmospheric conditions during this season also create particular problems for radars.

The arrival of the USS Independence and its accompanying six ships will almost double the size of the U.S. Middle East task force. Eight ships already are on station in the Persian Gulf. In addition, the carrier group led by the USS Eisenhower is plowing toward the eastern Mediterranean Sea within closer range of the Persian Gulf.

A third carrier group with the USS Saratoga and battleship USS Wisconsin is scheduled to leave Norfolk Monday, with a five-ship Marine amphibious group also deploying from the East Coast. These battle groups had been scheduled to deploy to the Mediterranean to relieve ships already in the region. The Navy now plans to temporarily retain all the ships in the area.

The battleship, the Aegis guided-missile cruisers and the attack submarines accompanying the carrier groups will give the United States the added firepower potential of Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles. During U.S. escort missions of Kuwaiti tankers through the gulf two years ago, military officials mapped much of the Middle East in minute detail for possible use of the Tomahawk.

But air power remains at the top of the military's list for any immediate action to assist Saudi Arabia's 65,700-member armed forces against the 120,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait. About 500,000 active duty personnel remain in Iraq. Iraqi ground forces are supported by a formidable air-defense component.

The Saudi forces have about 550 tanks, half of which are older model U.S.-built M-60 tanks, compared with Iraq's estimated 5,500 tanks. Last month the Saudi government signed an agreement to buy $3 billion woth of the U.S. Army's advanced M-1A2 tanks which are not scheduled for delivery until the mid-1990s.

The Saudi air force has about 42 U.S.-built F-15 fighters and recently has purchased British-made ground attack Tornados and "would control the air theater of the battlefield," one U.S. military official said.

Within the past decade, the Saudis have constructed the King Khalid Military City as a partial defense against any Iraqi or Iranian invasion through Kuwait. The sprawling base serves as a staging area for troops and has aircraft landing facilities.

Staff writer Patrick E. Tyler contributed to this report.