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Reagan's MX plan draws scowls from US Joint Chiefs of Staff

By Stephen WebbeStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 6, 1981



Washington

In a hushed Capital Hill hearing room, Gen. David C. Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared that he opposes the Reagan administration's plan to deploy MX missiles in reinforced silos.

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Speaking in a voice that at times was barely audible, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Oct. 5 that he had been unable to convince President Reagan and Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger that multiple protective shelter (MPS) basing was the best answer.

"I remain to be convinced that there is a survivable mode other than MPS," he said.

Also testifying before the committee Monday, Secretary Weinberger admitted that none of the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored a silo-based MX.

Last Friday, the President announced plans to deploy at least 36 MX missiles in existing, but heavily reinforced, ICBM silos. In a hearing on that strategic enhancement package, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Tower (R) of Texas declared that he was "very disappointed that the MPS was rejected outright and is not even to be considered when this is what has been recommended by military and technical experts."

He asserted that an MPS deployment of the MX, coupled with a ballistic missile defense, offered the missile "the best prospect of survival."

Weinberger retorted that even at its completion in 1989, an MX/MPS basing mode "would be as vulnerable as Minuteman is today should the Soviets increase their warhead inventories to within easily feasible limits."

Under close questioning from senators skeptical of the survivability of the MX in fixed, vertical silos, Weinberger repeatedly emphasized that the steel and concrete reinforcement the silos would receive would give them "a superhardness" to nuclear blast.

He said the silos would be hardened to withstand up to 5,000 pounds-per-square-inch (psi) of pressure, asserting that the shelters favored by the Carter administraion were only capable of withstanding pressures of 600 psi. Superhardening silos, he said, will give MX three to four years of survivability before expected improvements in soviets missile accuracy renders reinforcement irrelevant.

Emphasizing that silo-basing the MX is only a temporary measure while other, more survivable modes are devised, Weinberger said the decision cleared the way for more rapid deployment of the missile. He denied charges that the President had simply made a decision to wait.

Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D) of Washington declared that in silo basing the MX, "WE've given the Soviets a better target to shoot at."

"What baffles me is that after eight months, we end up with a program that is the program that you and others have condemned," he told Weinberger.

Weinberger replied that deploying MX in reconstructed silos "gives us a short-term improvement in our existing ICBM force." He added that it would close the "window of vulnerability," which will be at its widest in 1985-86 "because we have not modernized or strenghtened our strategic force as we should have in the past."

Sen. Barry Goldwater (r) of Arizon declared himself "happy" with the President's MX decision. He said that he "never believed MPS had any benefit for us."