Washington — Britain's elite Special Air Service (SAS) should be a model for a US antiterrorist unit, declared Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger at a Pentagon news conference on Feb. 3.
Mr. Weinberger punctuated his call for strengthening US antiterrorist capabilities by describing as "remarkable" the May 5, 1980, raid in which men of the crack commando regiment successfully stormed the Iranian Embassy in London.
In a reference to the Iranian hostage saga, Weinberger said that a US antiterrorist unit should have "the training and opportunity to move very much more rapidly into a situation of that kind, which we hope will never happen again."
In a wide-ranging press conference, Secretary Weinberger, who joked that just finding his way around the Pentagon was "a chore in itself," declared that the administration would be "very sympathetic" to any request Israel might make for the stationing of US troops on its soil, though he doubted that any such request would be made. Terming Israel a "good and long and important ally," he declared , "We don't go where we're not wanted."
Turning to the vexed question of strategic weaponry, he said his intention to see whether the MX missile could be deployed on surface ships was "another one of several alternatives to other plans of basing it."
He affirmed that he was greatly concerned with environmental challenges to the present concept of MX system (a new missile which would be "mobile" in its siting, and thus less vulnerable to attack than present, fixed-site intercontinental missiles). He said this concern could slow the new system's construction, or even stop it.
A sea-based MX was a far less costly proposition, he said, conceding, however , that sea-borne basing raised questions of vulnerability and accuracy. "But even inaccuracy has a certain deterrent character," he said.
Asked about the possibility of producing the so-called neutron bomb, an "enhanced-radiation" weapon, Secretary Weinberger said such course of action "should be examined." He said that President Carter's sudden decision not to deploy the neutron bomb had been wrong.
Discussing the Rapid Deployment Force established by the Carter administration in response to the crisis in the Persian Gulf, Weinberger observed, "There is no question at all that it is essential for the US to have strong forces that can be rapidly projected in response to crisis we cannot foresee."
Last month the new defense secretary said he was very much aware of the need to "add greatly" to America's military strength. "A strong, confident America that is perceived by our allies as a reliable friend, and by our possible opponents as both willing and able to fight for our freedom, is our best hope for peace," he declared in a message to the nation's armed forces.
Secretary Weinberger said he was looking at the possibility of increasing the pay of military personnel to counter poor retention rates. But he added that he first intended to determine whether a recent 11.7 percent pay increase was "having a beneficial effect on the problem."
Turning to his recent observation that the US was militarily inferior to the Soviet Union, the secretary said that he had been struck by the deterioration in the balance of strategic and conventional forces between the two powers. "It did not seem we had the strength that the Soviets had," he said of his observation before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week -- but he expressed no doubts whatsoever that the US could redress the imbalance.
The defense secretary added that he had not made a decision on whether the US needs a new manned bomber.