The Pentagon is used to the sound of criticism from the political left about weapons programs, spending levels, and strategic programming. But these days it is hearing a thundering sound from the right as well, a sound that bodes ill for the Reagan administration's five-year, $1.6 trillion military buildup.
The Committee on the Present Danger (a hawkish group that used to include Ronald Reagan himself and sent many members to join the administration in top positions) says the Reagan plan leaves the US falling further behind the Soviet Union.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank generally supportive of the administration, looks at the five-year buildup plan and agrees with the private assessment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: It will cost a lot more than the administration is predicting to meet every military goal it has set for itself.
House Republican Policy Committee chairman Richard Cheney of Wyoming, a self-described hawk, says the administration has not exacted sufficient economies from a Pentagon that is to get more of everything in coming years. He agrees that military spending ought to be curbed by $5 billion to $8 billion in 1983.
The increasing nervousness on Wall Street was illustrated this week when American Stock Exchange president Arthur Levitt called for cuts in defense to help reduce federal deficits.
In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee March 18, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Tower (R) of Texas said it would be a ''grave error'' to significantly cut the Reagan defense plan.
But Senator Tower's voice seems to be a lonely one on Capitol Hill these days as other Republicans and conservatives join the calls for defense cuts.
In a breakfast meeting with reporters this week, for example, Congressman Cheney said the controversial M-1 tank ''should be scrapped,'' and added that he was rethinking his earlier support for the B-1 bomber.
Calls for defense cuts from the right are bolstered by such things as a report this week on ''Cutting the High Cost of Weapons'' by the Heritage Foundation, which generally supports increased US military might.
Noting what it called a ''staggering'' increase in weapons costs in recent years, the conservative group said, ''If the administration wants to preserve the pro-defense consensus, it will have to bring the cost of weapons under control.''
The group noted with approval cost-control reforms initiated by Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, but said ''the Carlucci initiatives do not address some of the major causes of growth in weapons cost.'' These reforms ''are silent on the subject . . . of gold-plating,'' (adding unnecessary expensive items to weapons systems), the Heritage Foundation reported.
Bill Green, editor of national security publications for the Heritage Foundation, adds that there is ''lots of waste'' in the areas of military pay and compensation.
The group suggests savings in procurement and research and development that could save as much as $8.5 billion annually. In this new report, the Heritage Foundation is sounding very much like the ''military reform caucus'' on Capitol Hill that includes such relatively liberal defense gadflies as Sen. Gary Hart (D) of Colorado.
The Committee on the Present Danger, on the other hand, calls the administration's defense plan ''a minimal one'' that ought to be increased by $ 100 billion over the next five years. This prestigious group of Cassandras has been urging more defense spending since it was founded in 1976.
More than 30 of its members have joined the administration, including James Buckley, William Casey, Fred Ikle, Paul Nitze, Eugene Rostow, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick. Some of its notable members (including economist Herbert Stein) have been critical of the Reagan administration's economic policies.
''We're caught up in a difficult economic situation that has political overtones,'' Charls Walker, the group's chairman admitted this week.
No one knows this better than lawmakers on Capitol Hill - including a significant number of Republicans - who are eyeing defense as they sharpen their budget-cutting knives.