The unwilling weaponeers

According to the panel of 26 military and foreign policy experts who put together the recent report on defending Europe with conventional weapons, it is possible to do the job and do it quickly and at tolerable cost - provided. . . .

US Under Secretary of Defense Richard DeLauer had earlier let out one of the meanings of ''provided.''

He was talking to reporters about the new conventional weapons which the report says could be as effective on a modern battlefield as nuclear weapons. But production and deployment is being held up, he said, because the US Army and the US Air Force are not able to agree on which service would use them.

He said that use of the new weapons would require a change in concepts, organization, and tactics. He said the services are so far unwilling to make the necessary revisions.

The particular weapon Mr. DeLauer was discussing is a combination of the existing Pershing II rocket (due for deployment in Europe at the end of this year) with a CAM-40, which ''would have a terminally guided 'bus' filled with kinetic energy penetrators (KEP) fused to explode beneath the runway.'' Estimates are that ''three CAM-40 missiles would be required per runway or taxiway.''

The new study, ''Strengthening Conventional Deterrence in Europe,'' estimated that 600 of the CAM-40 missiles would be able to close down 30 Soviet MOBs (main operating bases) for three days and another 300 could interdict 100 ''choke points'' vital to the success of a sudden Soviet push into West Germany. The 900 missiles would require 110 hardened shelters. The cost of the missiles plus shelters would be $2.3 billion - to be spread over 10 years.

So, for $2.3 billion spent on the latest new nonnuclear weapons, the present Soviet ability to support and follow up a sudden paralyzing conventional blow into Central Europe could itself be paralyzed and exorcised.

The necessary preparatory work for producing and deploying the CAM-40 weapons could be set in motion in a letter of recommendation which the President sends to Congress on June 15. That is, it could start if the Army and Air Force could first agree on which service would control the weapons once they are deployed in Europe.

Interservice jealousy is, of course, not the only reason why Washington and the other allied capitals have not yet committed themselves to the new weaponry and doctrines which would replace tactical nuclear weapons as the basic defense for NATO. Nor is CAM-40 the only new weapon needed for the full job.

There would have to be other new weapons; for example, short-range multiple rocket launchers armed with skeet delivery vehicles (SDV) for front-line work. There would also have to be new devices for surveillance and targeting. The total cost of all new weapons needed to achieve freedom from the need to use nuclear weapons would be from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion per year for 10 years.

Before progress is made, the White House, then the Pentagon, then the Congress, would have to grasp the concept of the changeover from nuclear to conventional defense of Europe and agree to go ahead.

But the White House, the Pentagon, and the Congress have been preoccupied for months now with a bruising political struggle over whether to build the MX missile.

And all three have been obsessed with hazy, undefined ideas of what constitutes the much invoked ''Soviet threat.'' There has been negligible thinking about the one specific ''threat'' which actually and provably exists - the shaping of Soviet forces in Europe for a surprise thrust into West Germany tailored to make a nuclear response impossible.

The real ''window of vulnerability'' is not in an imbalance in strategic weapons (a fact President Reagan recognized when he accepted the Scowcroft commission report). It is in the less known and little discussed fact that the Soviets are training and arming forces which could roll into West Germany as they rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968 and as the Polish Army took over Poland (for the Soviets) last year.

The new element in the picture is the clear exposition in the report of the European Security Study, published by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of the precise nature of what the Soviets are building in Eastern Europe, what they could do with it, and what can be done to counter their plans.

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