Washington — Defense Secretary Harold Brown insists that the US is still No. 1 in leading areas of defense technology, from radar-resistant planes to anti-submarine warfare.
To Republican and other critics of the Carter administration's defense policies and its alleged political leak of the secret "Stealth" aircraft program , Secretary Brown has a further rejoinder: It's "important" that the Soviets and the world know that the US has this technological edge.
At a breakfast meeting with reporters Sept. 11, a confident-sounding Dr. Brown defended the Carter administration's record of increased defense spending for Stealth and other projects. He added that ratification of SALT II and talks with the Soviets on other arms-control measures, including reduction of theater nuclear missiles in Europe, was still a primary Carter objective.
Secretary Brown called the Stealth program a "major advance by the US." The United States, he said, now is spending "100 times" more than when the program, designed to produce an aircraft with reduced radar visibility, seriously began in the mid- 1960s. He rejected recent charges by retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and other advisers of Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan that so referring to it helped the Soviets.
"It's important that it be known when we're ahead as well as when we're behind," he said. Though the administration had hoped to keep the existence of the Stealth project secret longer, he said, the main details of the aircraft remain confidential. There would be "no way" the US could keep the Stealth project under wraps after submission of the next supplemental defense budget to the Congress, Brown said.
Besides Stealth, the Defense secretary affirmed, the US is "substantially ahead" in techniques of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and in protecting US submarines from ASW; in precision-guided munitions, especially cruise missile and anti-tank weapons technology; and in intelligence collection "by technical means" (especially, though Brown did not specify this, high-altitude and satellite sensors and photography).
The defense secretary said the Carter administration faces a "hard time" deciding which kind of bomber would be the best follow-on for the obsolescent B- 52. He said he did not "think it would be the B-1," the supersonic bomber canceled by the Carter administration in 1977.
The Carter administration still hopes for US Senate ratification of the SALT II arms-limitation agreement, shelved after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets, after dropping their demand for prior SALT II ratification, have been urging the US and Western Europeans to start talks on limiting medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
Asked when such talks could start, Brown recalled that Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie had said the subject could be taken up with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko at the UN General Assembly session in New York. They are to meet Sept. 25. "We might have some preliminary talks this year," Brown said.
Without going into great detail, the defense secretary was as upbeat on Carter administration strategic nuclear defense strategy and conventional defense of the Indian Ocean-Persian Gulf region as he was on the US technical edge.
He rejected suggestions from Soviet quarters that the administration's mobile-based MX intercontinental missile, which the Pentagon wants to deploy in Utah and Nevada by the late 1980s, was likely to tempt the US into hitting the USSR with a "first strike."
Neither MX nor the Stealth concept applied to a penetrating bomber, Brown said, were legitimate reasons for Soviet concern of US surprise attack, since neither would be totally undetectable by Soviet intelligence or air defenses.
Secretary Brown acknowledged that the Iranian revolution, which he called the "collapse of Iran," has basically altered the strategic "complexion" of southwest Asia and defense of Europe and Japan by stretching US forces thinly into the Indian Ocean. Both Europeans and Japanese should do more in defense of their own interests, he said, and "take up the slack" left by the thinning out of US forces deployed toward the Indian Ocean.
Brown said seven "interim" supply ships deployed in the Indian Ocean since July were a start toward developing seriously needed US military airlift and sealift capability for a rapid deployment force.