Move over, "60 Minutes."

With all the tenacity of the grizzled Washington press corps, 52 T.C. Williams High School seniors put the nation's top military officer on the spot yesterday in a way that only self- assured teen-agers can.

No one asked Adm. William J. Crowe Jr. what it was like to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead, students wanted to know about the Persian Gulf policy, the cost of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the details about impending military budget cuts.

"How can you justify the 'Star Wars' budget, which is trillons of dollars, when there are people in the world who have no money, no home and no food?" Betsy Brooks asked from the back of the Pentagon hall set up for the 40-minute session.

Crowe described SDI as a necessary insurance policy against war.

"What was your knowledge of the Iran-contra affair before press coverage?" another student wanted to know.

"I knew very little about it," answered Crowe.

And that's the way it was, yesterday, at the Pentagon.

Crowe arrived after a morning intelligence briefing, an aide said, and he was called away briefly to talk to Secretary of State George P. Shultz before showing the students his wall-to-wall collection of hats, some of which he modeled for the giggling crowd.

The government students were invited for the tete-a-tete after two students requested a visit in a letter. Crowe's three children attended the Alexandria school. The discussions were being filmed by "60 Minutes" for a profile on Crowe.

Students said after the discussion that they were impressed with his handling of their questions, even though some said he did not change their minds on certain issues.

"He just got right to the point," said Brooks, who said she opposes SDI. "I think that no matter what happens, the Russians will think we're going to use this offensively."

Other students said some of Crowe's answers were evasive.

"He's pretty good about dancing around," said John Jewsbury.

At one point, Crowe interjected a note of optimism.

"While we live in a difficult age, this is not the first difficult age the world's ever faced," he said. "It's been this way for a long, long time.

" . . . Any nation that can replace a president like we did during the Watergate affair -- we didn't have troops in the streets -- that country can't be all bad. It works pretty well despite the fact that we do have difficulties and problems."

The session offered a chance to note the views of a man who is not routinely accessible to the public.On escorting reflagged tankers through the Persian Gulf: "It is clear the policy is working, and not just from a military standpoint, but from a political perspective. The very thing we wanted to achieve is happening. The United States is being better received and our voice is growing" in friendly Arab countries.

On Soviet interests in the Middle East: "Soviet policy has vacillated back and forth {between making inroads with the Arab states and Iran} . . . and they haven't been very successful at either . . . . We believe that they do furnish some arms either directly or indirectly to Iran. It's something the Soviet Union has been able to engineer better than the United States . . . because we're not permitted to do duplicitous things, and I think we're better off."

On a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan: "My own estimate would be that there's a very good prospect that within the next year we might see the arrangements made that would encourage the Soviets to withdraw."