On the op-ed page recently, Clayton Fritchey warned us of a "frantic new arms race" resulting from the myth created by our militarists that the Soviet Union has achieved military superiority. In the next paragraph, he cautioned against a "furtile effort to establish a superiority of our own," and concluded that there are "laws against shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater, but unfortunately there is no way of restraining panic-making shouts about our national security."

Fritchey quotes several authorities, including David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Harold Brown; and Maxwell Taylor, former JSC chairman, in support of the contention that the United States remains militarily equal or superior to the Soviet Union. But the military balance is never static. The question is not where we are but where we are going. On this, hear the recent words of those same witnesses:

Jones: "We have been living off the capital of previous investments" while in the case of the Soviets "their momentum will allow them to gain an advantage over the United States in most of the static indicators of strategic forces by the early 1980s. Moreover, because of the lead time in modern weapons program, this progressive shift in the strategic balance will continue into the latter part of the 1980s" (FY81 Military Posture Statement).

Brown: "The 1979 Soviet military effort was about 50 percent larger than our own" and has "a potential for strategic advantages if we fail to respond with adequate programs" (FY81 Department of Defense Annual Report).

Taylor: ". . . our armed forces in the aggregate are dangerously deficient in their capability to deter conflict, conduct sustained combat overseas even on a limited scale or to provide the military backing necessary to support our foreign policy, present or projected" (The Post, letters, Aug. 3).

There are other witnesses worth hearing on this project. Gen. Edward Meyer, chief of staff of the Army, told a House subcommittee on May 29 that, except for our forward deployed forces, we have a "hollow Army." At the same hearing, Marine Commandant Robert Barrow, when asked if he considered the FY81 budget adequate, replied, "in a word, no." Speaking to the Naval War College on May 1, Adm. Thomas Hayward, chief of naval operations, reported that the Soviet Navy now has 800 first-line combatants to our 300, is building twice as many modern surface combatants and four times as many submarines as we are, and that the new Soviet ALFA class sub -- with its titanium hull and phenomenal speed and depth capability -- is far beyond anything we would consider reasonable or affordable. And in considering the significance of this naval balance -- or imbalance -- remember that the Soviet Union, unlike the United States and its Free World allies, is basically a land power, largely self-sufficient in resources and enjoying overland access to its major allies and trading partners.

Lew Allen, Air Force chief of staff, late last year expressed similar concern: "Most ominous is the unrelenting expansion of Soviet power, which has allowed them to achieve parity in strategic nuclear forces with the United States and threatens to provide military advantage to many areas of conflict."

To be sure, there are, as Fritchey contends, alarmist and hysterical voices in the defense debate, and the national interest is ill served by leading either our allies or our adversaries to conclude that our military establishment is in worse shape than it is. But the authorities I have quoted are by no means irresponsible extremists. They are respected members of an administration dedicated to cooling off rather than heating up the arms race. But they are also occupants of responsible positions in which they have had unique access to the facts and a heavy obligation in acting upon those facts.

Fritchey also invokes the judgment of former defense secretary Robert McNamara, who warns: "To the extent that military expenditure severely reduces the resources available for other essential sectors and social services -- and fuels a futile reactive arms race -- excessive military spending can erode security rather than enhance it."

This is the same McNamara who guided our course in Vietnam and who, in 1964, had this to say to U.S. News & World Report: "The Soviets have decided that they have lost the quantitative race and they are not seeking to engage us in that contest. It seems that there is no indication that the Soviets are seeking to develop a strategic nuclear force as large as our own." s

As to the effects of military spending on our economy, of which McNamara warns, it should be kept in mind that during the Eisenhower administration we were spending twice as large a share of our gross national product on defense as we do today and, in those years, our economy grew vigorously and inflation was, by present standards, negligible. And when McNamara contends that defense spending is at the expense of social services, one is reminded of the words of the late British air marshal, Sir John Slessor: "It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free."