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Clinton military budget proposes to cut forces but preserve defense contracts


WASHINGTON -- Defense contractors have been granted a one-year reprieve from cuts by the Clinton administration's military budget, which would shrink by $10 billion largely through a reduction in the number of personnel.

The $263 billion request to Congress, released yesterday, would preserve what Defense Secretary Les Aspin called "controversial weapon systems," pending a yearlong Pentagon review of strategic and tactical changes dictated by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"They [Soviets] were at the heart of everything we did," Mr. Aspin said at a Pentagon news conference. "The question now is what replaces the Soviet Union."

The challenge for Mr. Aspin will be whether he can withstand demands by his former colleagues in Congress who want to cut everything from the "star wars" Strategic Defense Initiative to new submarines and aircraft to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Even the usual Pentagon advocates in Congress have urged President Clinton to scrap McDonnell-Douglas' C-17 Air Force cargo jet, which has design flaws and is $1 billion over budget. But Mr. Aspin requested $2.5 billion more for the C-17, which is being built in California.

The decision will be a relief for contractors, particularly in California, which provided Mr. Clinton with a political base in the 1992 presidential election. Mr. Aspin pledged to protect the military-industrial base of defense contractors and stressed the administration's concern over the effects of lost jobs and profits on the U.S. economy.

"This is a cautious budget on the weapons side," Mr. Aspin said. "We're treading water," pending the yearlong Pentagon review.

That is good news for traditional defense contractors, such as Lockheed and Northrop, as well as for conglomerates, such as General Electric, Westinghouse, GTE and ITT, that have a big stake in defense contracts.

But there will be no respite for career military personnel who have been losing jobs since the Bush administration imposed post-Cold War military cuts.

A reduction of 108,000 in active-duty military, a pay freeze and modest cuts in the Strategic Defense Initiative account largely for Mr. Clinton's proposed defense cuts in the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The overall fiscal 1994 budget is $10 billion less than this year's level -- and $12 billion short of what President George Bush had envisioned for the post-Cold War era.

Over four years, Mr. Clinton plans to cut defense spending by $88 billion, more than the $60 billion reduction he pledged during the presidential campaign.

Although the number of uniformed forces would drop, the budget would increase spending for training, upkeep of weapons and ships, and flying time, from $86.4 billion in fiscal 1993 to $89.5 billion for next year.

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