Negotiators OK arms bill with B-2, 'star wars' cuts

October 18, 1990|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- House and Senate negotiators approved a $288 billion military spending plan yesterday for the 1991 fiscal year that limits financing for the B-2 Stealth bomber and cuts nearly $2 billion from the Bush administration's request for the "star wars" anti-missile program.

The compromise does not halt production of the Stealth bomber, as House members had sought, but military analysts said the conference report cast serious doubt on the future of the bat-winged warplane, which the Pentagon has hailed as an essential part of its strategic arsenal.

With a diminishing threat from the Soviet Union and the promise of continued pressure for military spending cuts next year, military analysts said that the agreement would probably only forestall the ultimate demise of the plane, manufactured by the Northrop Corp.

The conference committee's report, developed in three weeks of closed meetings, offers a detailed guide to military spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

The plan, which cut $18 billion from President Bush's budget request, now goes back to the House and Senate for a final vote. Approval is expected by both houses.

The spending cuts reflected in the budget are much more modest than those Congress had been expected to impose last spring when there was serious discussion about bringing the Pentagon budget down below $280 billion. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait slowed the momentum toward deeper cuts.

The budget plan approved yesterday falls within Pentagon spending levels set by the budget resolution approved by Congress last week.

The $288 billion military budget blueprint provides $2.9 billion for the "star wars" program -- formally called the Strategic Defense Initiative -- well below Mr. Bush's proposal of $4.7 billion.

In addition to the SDI and B-2 provisions, the negotiators also agreed to cut 100,000 troops, including 50,000 in Europe, from the 2.1 million military personnel on active duty. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had urged Congress to hold the personnel reductions to 80,000, with about 40,000 in Europe.

Negotiators cut about two-thirds of the administration's total request for the MX missile, which carries 10 nuclear warheads, and the single-warhead Midgetman missile.

Both houses had rejected the administration's request to build a rail system to shuttle the 50 MX missiles from silos in a crisis, to make them less vulnerable.

Instead, the conferees approved a $680 million fund for research and development on the two missiles. The Midgetman is still being developed.

The legislation also set up a bipartisan commission to review the closing of bases proposed by the Pentagon.

It dealt Secretary Cheney a setback by agreeing to budget $403 million in research and procurement money for the V-22 Osprey aircraft, which is capable of taking off like a helicopter and flying like a regular plane.

The Pentagon has argued that the aircraft is too expensive. The Marine Corps wants to use the Osprey to carry troops and equipment for assaults.

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