BDM International Inc. of McLean yesterday filed a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Army alleging that the agencies awarded a contract BDM had held for nine years to a minority-owned California firm it claims is incapable of handling the contract.

BDM alleged in a suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that the firm -- Arcata Associates, Inc. Burlingame, Calif. -- was deemed by the Army in August as incapable of handling the army's $8-million-a-year combat tactics and weapons testing contract. The contract earlier this year was set aside by the Army and the SBA to be awarded to a socially and economically disadvantaged small business as part of a special SBA program.

The McLean firm, which grossed $65 million last year, also contended that Arcata, a $350,000-a-year business, will subcontract most of the professional services work on the contract to a large firm that isn't socially and economically disadvantaged and that Arcata's owner isn't economically disadvantaged, either.

BDM's suit asks that the contract be taken from Arcata and opened up for competitive bidding and that the court grant a preliminary injuction preventing Arcata from performing any of the contract.

Grant Moy, an SBA attorney in San Francisco, said that the allegations against the SBA would be answered in a legal response from the agency and that the normal policy is to refuse comment on lawsuits.

However, Moy said that since the Army agreed to the contract he presumed Arcata's proposal was acceptable. Moy also said most of the contract wouldn't be subcontracted to a large nondisadvantaged firm and that Arcata's owner is economically disadvantaged.

Bdm said in its suit the contract involves the design, performance and evaluation of highly technical experiments intended to test new weapons and combat tactics. The contract also requires field experiments under simulated combat conditions and more than 200 employes, many of whom must have advanced degrees.

"Arcata is not competent to perform the [Army] contract because it lacks both the manpower and the expertise necessary to conduct the extremely sophisticated and highly technical weapons testing and combat tactics experiments required by the contract," BDM said in its suit.

SBA officials have contended that the contract isn't too large for Arcata and that many BDM employes working on the project would follow it to Arcata, permitting the small firm to use the same technical competence that was used by BDM. A major purpose of the program, SBA officials said, is to interest minority firms in technically oriented contracts rather than the traditional retail fields.