Defense Department is 'fat cat' in lean 1981 US budget

While other federal departments are struggling to meet President Carter's requirement to thin their slices of the fiscal 1981 US budget pie by as much as 15 percent, only the Defense Department has not been asked to cut its share.

Analysts outside the defense establishment view the Pentagon, by comparison, as the "fat cat" of the fiscal year, with a $158.7 billion request that already is being increased.

Since Defense Department spokesman Thomas Ross confirmed late last month that the White House had not included the Pentagon in the request for budget trims, there have been these new developments:

* The House Armed Services seapower subcommittee has heeded Navy Secretary Edward Hidalgo's arguments that Navy shipbuilding levels now projected, after attrition, actually would reduce present strength to 392 fighting ships at the end of fiscal 1985, 11 percent lower than its now thinly stretched global force.

The subcommittee has recommended adding six ships costing $2.2 billion to the fiscal 1981 budget. The Iran-Afghanistan crisis situation requires continuing US naval presence in the Indian Ocean. This led the committee to suggest modernizing the old aircraft carrier Oriskany and also taking out of mothballs the New Jersey, a World War II-era battleship.

A 93,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Carl Vinson, sister ship of the USS Nimitz and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, is to be launched March 15 at Newport News, Va., and is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 1982, the Pentagon announced. One more Nimitz-class carrier -- the fourth -- has been authorized by Congress, despite an earlier veto and objections by the Carter administration.

* For years, the Navy has sought 90 nuclear-powered attack submarines, like the Los Angeles-class subs now under construction, to neutralize Soviet submarines and escort US surface task forces.

Instead of building only one Los Angeles- class submarine and designing a slower, inexpensive sub (nicknamed "Fat Albert"), as the administration requested, the House panel has added $906.6 million for two more Los Angeles-class subs and insisted on designing a new type, larger and more costly than "Fat Albert."

It also added nearly $500 million for two guided-missile frigates and $47 million for expediting work and improvements on a new class of amphibious assault ships, called LSD- 41s -- usable in the Persian Gulf or other locations where marines and supplies have to land directly on beaches, without access to port facilities.

* The Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Lew Allen Jr., recently pointed out that US airlift capacity is so deficient that the Air Force could probably muster only half of actual needs for flying troops and cargo to Europe during the first 15 days of a NATO emergency.

Consequently, Defense Secretary Harold Brown ordered the Air Force to move plans for first operational use of the protected new wide-bodied CX cargo plane -- still on the drawing boards -- from fiscal 1986 or 1987, as earlier planned, to no later than Oct. 1, 1985.

The fiscal 1981 budget request is for $80.7 million to begin CX development, once a design is chosen, with $408.9 million programmed for fiscal 1982.

* Although some congressmen, in the words of one Pentagon analyst, have been ready to "throw more money at us than we asked for" in some programs, the CX does not have strong support in the important House Armed Services Research and Development Subcommittee. Some congressmen reportedly believe CX funds could be better used to build more C-5 galaxy transports.

* Inflation is hitting nearly all the Pentagon's major development programs, such as the Navy's McDonnell Douglas F-18A fighter. A new report estimates a program cost increase of $5.1 billion for this fighter alone.

The Air Force's F-16, being coproduced by General Dynamics and a European consortium, and to be sold to both Israel and Egypt, has gone up in cost by $3.4 billion.

The Pentagon's original budget estimate -- worked out before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan -- provided for apparent real growth of 5.4 percent. While this assumed an inflation rate of 8.42 percent, Pentagon analysts now believe the actual inflation rate for fiscal 1981 may be much higher.Inflated fuel costs, too, may add as much as $5 billion or more in supplemental 1980 and 1981 budget requests.

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