TARGET: The Pentagon.

STRIKE FORCE: Federal Protective Service Police; United States Marshals.

OBJECTIVE: To bring to justice about 400 federal offenders, fugitives from traffic court being harbored by the Department of Defense.

Sometime soon, with the proper element of surprise, the U.S. Marshal Service will spearhead its second offensive against small-time traffic violators using the vast parking lots and federal roadways around the five-sided fortress across the Potomac that houses the nation's war machine.

Armed with arrest warrants for insurgent redlight runners, U-turn makers and illegal parkers, the marshals are "going to do our jobs," says Supervisory Marshal Roger Ray, a former Army riot-control specialist.

"We sent them letters and gave them 10 days to pay or make a new court date.

The ones that ignored us will have to be arrested," says Ray sternly.

It came to this once in the past, he says, just before Independence Day, 1978. A prisoner transport bus with wire-mesh windows rumbled into the Pentagon's center courtyard, and 15 marshals fanned out through its hallways. "People were hiding out in restrooms, going to the cafeteria and taking sick leave," recalls Ray, a yellowed newspaper clipping before him on his mahogany desk.

The marshals rounded up 28 people that day, including a Navy captain. Frisked and catalogued in view of their coworkers, who gaped from vantage points in office windows, the prisoners were taken for disposition to a U.S. magistrate's office in Alexandria.

There, they were made examples: "Pay your fines," was the message, "or answer to the U.S. marshals."

After that, Ray says, he had hoped that "people would learn their lessons."

For a while it worked. Then the warrants "started to pile up. People were getting lax, not paying, ignoring our letters."

To date, 1,413 Virginians and 2,508 out-of-staters have ignored Ray's authoritative form letters. They owe, Ray estimates, between $15 and $200 apiece. Only about 400 of them work in the Pentagon, but the building was targeted, he says, "because they have a real problem over there."

General Services Administration officials, who run the parking lots on the Pentagon Reservation," as it is called, estimate that about 25,000 parking tickets are issued there each year by GSA's law enforcement branch, the Federal Protective Service police. Some of the biggest offenders, Ray says, are employes who park in visitors' lots close to the complex rather than in the acres of designated lots that may be more than a mile from the building.

The marshals come in, Ray says, after offenders fail to respond to summonses. Arrest warrants are issued.

Now, even though he has one successful campaign, in the vest-pocket of his brown, three-piece suit, Ray plans to change his tactics. The last "major raid" had been crude, too plainly telegraphed. "Once we got there, they could see what was going on," Ray says. "A bus is too open."

This time, Ray will rely heavily on surrogate guerrilla fighters, Federal Protective Service officers who are part of the everyday Pentagon woodwork, to make the arrests. The GSA police force already has issued a warning, and some offenders have paid. If backup is necessary, Ray is ready to send in "one- or two-man teams and a van" for several minor "surgical strikes."

Before anything can get under way, the Pentagon has to supply Ray with a list of its 25,000 employes so the marshals can match the offenders to the warrants.

"That could take a while," Ray says. "With budget cuts, it's going to be pretty low priority for them. And of course, they have three scheduled demonstrations coming up . . ."

The countdown continues.