WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND ON NATIONAL DEFENSE. The Reagan administration ``rearmed America.'' But it also saw waste in the Pentagon and huge budget deficits. Can the next president keep the US strong while streamlining spending? Third in a series. BUSH

GEORGE BUSH has pledged himself to carry on with the defense policies of the Reagan administration. ``I believe that the administration's approach to rebuilding America's defenses is fundamentally correct,'' the vice-president says. Thus, Mr. Bush backs virtually every weapons system in the Pentagon pipeline. The B-1 bomber, the Stealth bomber, the MX missile, and two proposed new aircraft carrier groups all have his fervent support.

Bush says he wants to wipe chemical and biological weapons off the face of the earth. But in keeping with his philosophy of ``peace through strength,'' he supports production of such weapons as the Bigeye nerve-gas bomb, until reductions in such weapons can be negotiated with the Soviets.

Bush says he would also deploy a missile-defense system developed under the Strategic Defense Initiative (``star wars''). In the meantime, he would seek to fund SDI at current levels - some $4 billion a year.

Bush's support for the Reagan administration's current defense plans and priorities has given rise to the charge by Democrats that ``George Bush never met a weapons system he didn't like.''

Pressed in his two debates with Michael Dukakis, Bush failed to come up with single weapons system he would cancel that had not already been abandoned. The only planned defense procurement he indicated a willingness to jettison is a new 10-ton truck.

``There's no way we can build all of the weapons systems that the vice-president says he wants to build within the existing defense budget,'' Mr. Dukakis asserts.

Indeed, the vice-president's defense wish list seems unlikely to square with the budgetary restrictions he would probably face as President. He has yet to explain, for example, how he would keep the $289 billion Pentagon budget within the constraints of his so-called ``flexible freeze'' on all federal spending apart from social security.

And even if his flexible-freeze proposal goes the way of so many campaign promises, it is certain that a President Bush - or a President Dukakis - will face hard decisions on Pentagon spending.

After doubling during the first four years of the Reagan presidency, the Pentagon budget has fallen by 10 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1985. Though the Pentagon's annual allowance is at present 53 percent higher than before the buildup initiated by President Jimmy Carter, it will take a new flurry of spending to get all of the major new weapons off the Pentagon's drawing boards and into the field, water, and air - or, in the case of SDI, into space.

``We've got six lanes of hardware heading into four lanes of budget,'' says Gordon Adams, defense analyst for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. ``It's the central management problem facing the next president.''

Bush has said that, to make the Pentagon more efficient, he would implement the procurement-reform measures outlined in a report issued by a blue-ribbon panel headed by David Packard, a leading businessman and former Defense Department official.

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