While the Persian Gulf buildup is expected to mean new business for many defense contractors that supply weapons, clothing, bottled water and other supplies to the military, numerous companies in the Washington area fear that they actually may lose business as a result of Operation Desert Shield.

Industry executives fear that with the fiscal 1991 tab for Operation Desert Shield up to $11.3 billion, the Pentagon will be searching for places to save money, and the business conducted by many local companies could be vulnerable.

"The {Pentagon's} money right now has to go for things like petroleum, ammunition, living expenses of the troops, all the operational things needed to keep a larger force going," said Carl Guerreri, president of Electronic Warfare Associates Inc. of Vienna.

But with the exception of a few companies, like Survival Technology Inc., a Bethesda-based company that makes antidotes for nerve gas, the vast majority of the defense companies in this area do not make products that are being hurriedly shipped to the gulf.

Most of the local defense contractors provide services, typically ranging from engineering studies of weapons systems to the design of computer and communication systems to advice on how to purchase new weapon systems.

"What we do in our industry has to do with a lot of long range things, and when there is a crisis, you put out the fires," said Guerreri. He said money for services "is now being diverted to pay for the military operations. Contracts {for services} are getting cut back, and new contracts aren't being put in place. I'm not complaining. It has to be."

But he said "there seems to be a misunderstanding in some circles that as soon as this happened, floodgates of money opened up" for all defense contractors. He said that in the case of many local defense companies "just the opposite happened."

A Pentagon spokesman said that, indeed, the Pentagon is making plans to shift some money from operation and maintenance to help fund Operation Desert Shield. Pentagon Comptroller Sean O'Keefe last month directed the services to come up with ways to reduce their operations and maintenance budgets. Much of the money that pays for services performed by local companies comes out of the Pentagon's operations and maintenance budget.

"We are concerned," said George M. Gingerelli, president of Delta Research Corp. of Arlington. However, he said it was still unclear if services contracts would be significantly cut. "The jury is still out."

Gingerelli said the next two weeks will be a good indication of how hard local companies will be hit. That's because the Pentagon traditionally signs a number of contracts at the end of the fiscal year, after it has determined exactly how much money it has left. There is concern that this "end of the year money," which normally provides a boost in business for companies, will be eaten up by the gulf buildup, he said.

Robert Lieg, vice president of administration and service at Atlantic Research Corp. Services, said he believes the slowdown can be attributed as much to the congressional battle over the defense budget as the Persian Gulf crisis. He theorized that agencies are hesitant to commit money for a program that might be cut by Congress.

But Lieg said that companies realize that the enormous price tag of the gulf operation makes other contracts vulnerable.

"There is general talk among industry about what is going to happen, a feeling of when is the next shoe going to drop," said Lieg.