The next round of military base closures in 1995 will be significant but not as huge as some have predicted, Defense Secretary William Perry said Wednesday.

"It will be of a significant size," he said in an 80-minutes interview with defense reporters. "We've already closed all of those that were relatively easy to close, so it's going to be a painful process, but it must be done."The 1995 round of closures recommended by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission would be similar in magnitude to the 1993 round in which 30 major bases and dozens of smaller facilities were closed, he said.

"It's reasonable to expect that it's going to be approximately comparable to the size of last year," Perry said.

But he said even more closures were necessary because the military's infrastructure has been cut less than 20 percent as troops were reduced by more than 30 percent. Without more closures, he said, "We will have a disproportionate amount of the defense budget going to overhead, rather than to the fighting forces."

The government has ordered 70 major bases closed since 1988 but has actually shut down only about two dozen. Under the base closure law, 1995 was to mark the last of four rounds of base closings and many officials had predicted it would be the largest. The services have provided guidelines about what they want to close, Perry said.

He predicted Congress will accept new closures although "there will be some turbulence getting from here to there."

But on Dec. 1, Sens. Bob Dole, R-Kan., Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, wrote President Clinton urging him to rethink the 1995 base closure round.

"While greater efficiencies can be gained through the base closure and realignment process, we oppose dismantling irreplaceable defense assets," the lawmakers wrote. Dole is incoming Senate majority leader, Thurmond will head the Senate Armed Services Committee and Stevens will chair the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee.

After hearing of Perry's comments, Thurmond said, "I hope there will not be a large base closure round in '95. It's important that we ascertain what the world situation is going to be and it would be dangerous to cut our military assets too much more."

On the budget, Perry said that the spending plan he submits for fiscal 1996 will be "fully honest" in that spending proposals will match the needs of the force and the nation's defense. He predicted that the upcoming budget debate with the newly Republican-led Congress will be over how the Pentagon will spend the money more than how much it will get.

He said he faces a "very substantial task" in persuading skeptical lawmakers to continue spending money for such things as environmental cleanup programs or to help Russia transform its defense industry to peaceful purposes. Other debates will include some lawmakers' desires to increase spending for a national ballistic missile defense or additional B-2 Stealth bombers, he indicated.

Thurmond has suggested freezing Pentagon spending at current levels. That would mean adding $12 billion in the coming year since long-term budgets were to have been cut in fiscal 1996.

Asked about complaints that Clinton administration budget cuts have hurt readiness of the troops, Perry said, "Some units have been overtaxed" but the answer to the problem "is not just more defense dollars." Better solutions, he said, are better use of reserve forces and improved rotation of units to spread the work around.

The defense secretary said he opposes eliminating the Energy Department and wrapping its nuclear weapons programs into the Defense Department, saying, "We've got enough on our plate without taking that on."

Perry said he hopes 1994 was an "atypical year" with deployments in such places as Rwanda, Haiti and Somalia. He said he was pleased the Rwanda humanitarian relief mission did not require putting U.S. forces into a peacekeeping operation, and he called it "a big accomplishment" that the United States has not put ground troops into combat in Bosnia.