Over the past four years President Reagan's defense budgets have averaged 7 percent real growth. Shipbuilding, fleet manning, aircraft readiness and ammunition have increased substantially. The actual percentage increase now in the fleet in each of these categories is 11 percent, 10 percent, 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

Critics unfairly say little has been achieved. In rightly rejecting these critics, we in Defense pass over the reality that we could have achieved much more under a system less convoluted than that which was passed to us in January 1981.

Dr. Samuel Johnson once said that what is remarkable about a dog's walking on his hind legs isn't that it is not done well but that it is done at all. Such is the wonder that secretaries of defense these past 15 years have provided as well for the common defense as they have, given the monstrousness of the system that besets them.

Cap Weinberger was charged by his president to take the existing institution and get on with rebuilding a common defense ravaged by Vietnam, Watergate and false prophets. He was not asked to reform congressional micromanagement, corporate greed and bureaucratic elephantiasis first. He did as bidden and saved a collapsing balance of power.

Now the horrendousness of the system within which he made this prodigy has suddenly become topical. Good. Perhaps now we can actually gain a long overdue bipartisan consensus to change it.

The fact that so much simple-mindedness is written about how to fix Defense by armchair experts innocent of any service in government should not be allowed to discredit the insight that solutions to our current problems involve the application of simple principles. For while the problems of Defense are enormous in number and great in complexity, their causes may be traced to a single root: unceasing bureaucratic growth in Congress and the Defense establishment over the past 30 years.

Have profits been excessive in Defense industry? Yes, indeed, when measured as a percent of assets. For the last two decades it has averaged nearly four times the norm of nongovernment profit. Why? Because Congress has wanted it that way for 30 years, and its legislation and the implementing regulations often require that the taxpayer pay for the contractor's capital assets. Despite Cap Weinberger's progown, when we build a tank or an airplane, the legislation, regulations and appropriations still require the taxpayer to buy the contractor the tools, equipment and often the building.

Is contractor overhead excessive? Yes, often more than 100 percent of direct costs. Why? Because those same statutes and regulations invite padding and because as each new bureaucracy is legislated into the Defense establishment to oversee environment, equal-opportunity, work safety, women-owned enterprise, minority business, value engineering, etc., etc., contractors must hire more bureaucrats to fill out forms and pass their cost on as overhead -- and if a few Learjets or dog kennels get added along the way, well, who's to know?

Have contractors paid no taxes since 1972? Largely true for the biggest, but not unique to defense contractors. Why? Because Congress enacted loopholes to make it legal.

Are weapons systems often gold-plated and is the best often the enemy of good enough? Yes. Why? Because authority on any given weapon has been dissipated among so many mandated offices and entities outside of the line authority of the military departments that the chain of common sense is often destroyed.

Has legislative oversight become anarchy? Yes. How? Ten years ago four committees wrote legislation on Defense. Today 24 committees and 40 subcommittees oversee Defense. By actual measurement, current law and regulation on Defense procurement fill 1,152 linear feet of law library shelf space. Thousands of new pages are enacted yearly and almost none removed.

Is the Defense establishment overgrown? Yes. To cope with this avalanche of legislation and regulation, each military department headquarters numbers 2,000, as does the Joint Staff and its appendages and the Office of the Secretary of Defense staff. There are 10 Defense agencies numbering 85,000, and nine joint and specified commands that each average nearly a thousand. No intelligent human being would pay $700 for a toilet cover: it took a unified buying agency of 50,000 billets to do that.

This vast bloat in Congress and the executive branch has all been done over the past 30 years in the name of reformation at the altar of the false idols of centralization and unification. It has completely "clericalized" the procurement process, destroying authority and accountability and creating an environment in which only monopoly, cost-plus and single- source contracting processes flourish in a natural state. Competition, discipline, austerity and accountability are forcefully opposed by statutory complexity, bureaucratic inertia and congressional resistance. All this despite a few steady voices in Congress who have for years tried to improve the process.

What has been accomplished by Secretary Weinberger in reducing decades of gold-plating, cost overrunning and contract sole-sourcing has been done because he has begun to reverse 30 years of overcentralization and begun to restore accountability. In shipbuilding alone competition has been increased from 15 percent to 84 percent in only four years, with a payoff of $2.4 billion in cost underruns.

What must be done now is to recognize the falsity of current calls for more bureaucracy and centralization; to lay aside the calls of those who seek to use the current debate to settle old political or ideological scores; and to begin to apply the lessons so visible in current headlines.

We need no new legislation; we need the repeal of hundreds of linear feet of existing statutes and regulations.

We need no new bureaucratic entities; we need a large reduction in the number and size of existing ones.

We need no more centralization and unification; we need more decentralization and accountability through which the strong secretary of defense can unify all efforts to a central policy.

We need Congress to end the current chaos of subcommittees and reassert an orderly, strong role in meeting its constitutional responsibilities through a reasonable number of serious subcommittees.

In short, both Congress and the defense establishment must be de-organized to liberate the thousands of dedicated defense professionals in both institutions from their bureaucratic bondage and allow their common sense to prevail.