Washington — Look for President Reagan to search for some big savings in the defense budget next year while, at the same time, he sticks to his pledge of keeping America strong.
This tip comes from the upper reaches of the administration.
Good friends of the Reagan regime - Republican leaders and top business executives - have let the White House know that they feel it is imperative to reduce the huge federal deficit. To bring this about, they say, defense spending must be scrutinized.
These advisers are not asking the President to reduce defense spending arbitrarily; they say they want Reagan to keep America's guard up and potent. But they say that if the economy is really to get back on its feet, the immense deficit must be reduced - and that the only area remaining for sizable spending cuts is defense.
Republican leaders around the United States by and large say they believe that such an approach would be acceptable to the GOP rank and file - if it can be sold as a device to make the military more efficient and not something that would weaken the US defenses.
Says Timothy N. Hyde Jr., executive director of the Republican central committee in Iowa: ''That opinion (the need for cuts in defense spending) was reflected in the platform at the county GOP convention. It's traditional in the Midwest, certainly in Iowa, to look with some suspicion at defense spending as well as foreign-aid expenditures.
''People who are otherwise conservative and supportive of President Reagan do think we ought to take a hard look at defense spending as well as human resources.''
Businessmen and GOP politicians say the opportunity for big spending cuts in social programs is running out - especially with growing resistance from Democrats.
Thus, they see defense cuts as the only way the President can deal effectively with the deficit, which may reach $150 billion in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
Some knowledgeable Pentagon observers say the President would never consent to defense-spending cuts. But the word from within the administration is that the President, to get the economy going, may be forced to see if he can get more bang for the buck - or the same bang for less bucks.
In this vein, it is understood that the President will likely welcome new approaches to defense planning that would make defense spending less costly.
Richard M. Rosenbaum, a national committeeman in New York, has this to say on defense spending: ''There is so much money going into the military. It has to be an area where there could be cuts - and a prime prospect for close examination and for substantial, not minor cuts. This is the time for more accountability in that area.''