WASHINGTON (AP) _ A sweeping Pentagon defense review will emphasize weapons modernization, Defense Secretary William Cohen said Monday. That's good news for weapons makers, but it could mean further reductions in troop strength.

Among other things, the defense review being readied for Cohen's final approval spares from cancellation three high-profile fighter aircraft programs, the Air Force F-22, the Navy FA-18 E and F, and the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, according to a senior Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a speech at the University of Georgia on Monday, Cohen outlined the military strategy that underlies the so-called Quadrennial Defense Review he is expected to make public in mid-May. President Clinton is to be briefed on it later this week.

The plan rests on a flexible, ready force able to respond to missions ranging from embassy evacuations to full-scale war. The current forward-deployed force of 100,000 in the Pacific and the same number in Europe will remain unchanged. A key Pentagon concern, Cohen said, is the uncertainty over what kind of military threat the United States will face.

``Preparing for this uncertain future requires a robust modernization program,'' Cohen said. ``We don't want to engage in a fair fight, a contemporary war of attrition. We want to dominate across the full spectrum of conflict so that if we ever do have to fight, we win on our terms.''

It may be significant that Cohen's comment about not wanting a fair fight borrows directly from recent statements by his top acquisition official, Paul Kaminski, who touts the three new fighter aircraft for their ability to dominate the skies.

The senior defense official said Cohen's top advisers continue to look at options that would reduce the total number of these aircraft purchased over the coming decades from the current planned total of 4,400.

Not everyone in military decision-making circles agrees with the emphasis on weapons modernization. Field generals and fleet admirals who would have to lead the country in war warn that reducing force size would force the United States to abandon its goal of being able to fight and win two nearly simultaneous regional wars.

The Pentagon has all but completed a multi-year force reduction plan to bring the military down to just over 1.4 million active-duty personnel, including 10 active Army divisions, 346 ships, 10 active carrier wings and 13 active Air Force fighter wings. But Clinton's defense budget proposal for next year shows a willingness to nudge the personnel numbers down even further.

In a House floor speech Monday, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., a senior member of the House National Security Committee, fired a warning shot lest Cohen assume that the Pentagon alone will determine the size of the military.

``It is the duty of the Congress, not the president, let alone of the secretary of defense or of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ... to determine the size and composition of the armed forces,'' Skelton said.

Skelton questioned Pentagon planners who say the military can rely more on allies and on reserve call-ups. And he rejected the Pentagon's planning assumption that the current world threat environment is relatively benign.

``The evidence of recent years is that the world after the Cold War is more turbulent than ever,'' Skelton said.

Republicans on the House National Security Committee have raised similar concerns, noting in a recent report, for example, a decline in overall military readiness.

Meanwhile, Gen. Dennis Reimer, the Army chief of staff, urged Cohen in an April 19 memo to consider cutting $8.3 billion from defense agencies rather than cutting the size of the Army any further, the trade publication Defense Week reported Monday.