Washington — Ronald Reagan's bedtime reading may never have included Alfred Thayer Mahan's "The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783." But the President would seem to share the conclusion that many have drawn from the seminal work that became a best seller in 1890: Great powers need great navies.
Accordingly, the commander in chief is seeking to spend some of the additional billions he showered on the Defense Department last week in doubling the nation's naval shipbuilding program, the Monitor has learned.
A well-placed source asserts that the administration's revised defense budget , due to be submitted to Congress next month, will request an additional $6 billion for naval construction, effectively doubling the funding at present allocated to it. where the Carter administration had planned to build 14 ships in fiscal year 1982, some 28 would now be built.
"Carrier admirals" are reportedly elated by plans to spend some of the money to initiate the building of an additional nuclear-powered, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier -- a decision that, according to one congressional defense source, could herald the construction of three new "flattops."
The administration is proposing to devote 32.4 percent of the federal budget, or $249.8 billion, to defense by 1984. This contrasts with the 24.1 percent, or
Under the new Reagan budget $169.5 billion in addi tioyears, $7.2 billion of it in fiscal year 1982. But budget experts stress that these are spending figures that tend to conceal the fact that the Pentagon is requesting authority to earmark $25 billion in 1982 for weapons systems that will take several years to produce.
It is the disposition of this $25 billion that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and aides are wrestling with, ever conscious of spending preferences on Capitol hill.
When the revised budget goes to Congress March 10, it is expected to contain requests for a manned bomber; the accelerated delivery of all major weapons systems; funds for spare parts; and a 5.3 percent pay raise for military personnel. "That's probably as much as any reasonable person could have expected," says a defense observer, noting the shipbuilding and bomber programs alone will consume "10 billion right there."
Congressional sources seem to believe that the original B-1 will be built rather than a derivative. Deemed necessary to replace aging B-52s, which -- according to the repeated testimony of Pentagon experts in recent years -- will be unable to pierce Soviet air defenses beyond 1985, the new bomber could be produced in substantial numbers, say observers. Apparently a maximum of 200 might be built.
The administration's decision to build the B-1 and a new aircraft carrier is expected to draw the fire of critics.
David Johnson, research director of the dovish Center for Defense Information here, contends that the air- launched cruise missile is an infinitely preferable choice to the B-1. He adds that aircraft carriers are not only immensely expensive when the cost of their aircraft and escort ships are taken into account but they are also extremely vulnerable. Carriers, he believes, would be "priority targets" for Soviet submarines and Backfire bombers armed with antiship missiles.
But Rep. David F. Emery (R) of Maine, a member of the Hosue Armed Services seapower subcommittee, rejects this thesis. Maintaining that aircraft carriers are "very survivable," he points out that they are not only the most heavily armed ships afloat but that they also enjoy the protection of the task forces around them. Moreover, he adds, a nuclear carrier is not limited by the availability of tankers or the proximity to refueling depots.
With three additional flattops, the Navy would field a force of 15, enabling it, in the view of some experts, to maintain a permanent carrier presence in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans as well as in the Mediterranean.
The redoubled naval shipbuilding program, which is expected to emphasize the construction of both ballistic and attack submarines, comes at the urging of Navy Secretary John Lehman and Adm. Thomas Hayward, chief of naval operations, among others. Secretary Lehman recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "our national security demands maritime superiority and nothing less."
The revised budget also is expected to fund -- in the words of one congressional source -- "a lot of the nuts and bolts, unsexy sustainability items like spares, missiles, ammo, and the like."
Research and development requirements are not being forgotten either. Increased funds are expected to be found for the so-called "stealth" bomber, the Trident II missile, advanced-design fighters, new ship types VSTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft, and lightweight armor.