The Defense Department keeps insisting that the United States is short of all types of military weapons, from tanks to airplanes. We probably are. But every time you pick up the newspaper, there is an announcement that we're selling our stuff to some other country, or giving it away for free. No wonder we can't stockpile anything for ourselves.

The latest news bulletin, which came right after the Israeli raid on the nuclear facilities in Baghdad, was that the president had agreed to sell F-16s to Pakistan. Now anyone in the U.S. Air Force will tell you that they need every F-16 they can get. The question is, how do we keep supplying arms to all our friends and still have any left to equip our own armed forces?

There is a solution. Instead of selling our equipment to every ally that asks for it, we could rent the hardware on a daily or weekly basis. Working with Hertz, Avis and other leasing companies, we could set up booths at air, naval and Army bases where all our military hardware would be kept.

Pretty women officers in attractive uniforms would be behind the counters.

This is how it would work: A foreign general and his staff would come to the counter and say, "We'd like to rent five F-16s for a preemptive strike on our archenemy, Balanteria."

"That's no problem. I assume you want them fully equipped with rockets, bombs and gas."

"I certainly do."

"Well, that's included in the price of the rental. But if you have to rearm and refuel, you will have to pay for it yourself. The first 500 miles are on us, but you will be charged a thousand dollars a mile after that."

"That's reasonable. Can we charge it to our credit card?"

"Of course. Now when were you planning on making your strike?"

"Why?"

"Well, if you made it on a Saturday or Sunday, we could give you our special tourist weekend rate of $5,000 per plane, though you would have to return them on Monday morning."

"The weekend is as good a time as any. It might even be a better surprise.

Do we have to return the planes to the same airfield?"

"No, you can drop them off at any American Air Force base after your raid. Now, would you like liability insurance in case you are brought in front of the United Nations Security Council after the raid?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Here you are, sir. Take the Hertz bus right outside, and you can pick up your planes from our hangar."

"Oh, by the way, we also wanted to rent an AWACS airplane in case Balanteria decides to attack our oil installations in retaliation."

"All our AWACS have been rented by Saudi Arabia. Maybe Avis could help you."

The general would be directed to the next counter. The lady officer would punch his request into a computer. "We have a new AWACS coming in this afternoon. It's a sports model with only 10,000 miles on it. It will be $50,000 a day, but that's with unlimited mileage."

"That will be just fine."

"While you're here, sir, would you be interested in joining our Vip Nuclear Club?"

"What's the advantage of that?"

"You don't have to run through airports to get your planes. You can telephone in your order to the toll-free number and they will be ready when you get to the counter."

"That's a good idea."

"You also get a 20 percent discount on our F-4 fighter aircraft, and when you produce your card you will have priority on the latest air-to-air missiles just off the production line."

"Give me the application. You Americans certainly do have a wonderful customer relations program."

"Thank you, sir. When you're second best in defense, you have to try harder."