When that plunk-plunk you hear is arrows drilling into your covered wagon, former colonel David Hackworth ("Wonder Weapons That Worry Warriors," Outlook, Sept. 6) is exactly the tough old growler you want to have aiming the Winchester beside you. Around the campfire afterward he can enchant you with his visions of a perfect Army cleansed of bureaucrats. But don't ask too many questions.

Hackworth comes on as the military version of Ralph Nader. And like other consumer advocates--who also flash occasional truth--he doesn't like the product; he thinks it costs too much and doesn't work well; he's sure that simpler is better; and he is morally certain that the executives and engineers who run the business are a bunch of boobs who turn out lemons.

All he offers Post readers, however, is a barracks bitch session, right out of "Naked and the Dead" or "South Pacific." Such

conversations are not remarkable for

their breadth of perspective.

Hackworth's complaint is that

military equipment is "junk." The stuff he used in Vietnam before he quit in disgust was junk. The new stuff is junk. And the older stuff apparently was junk, too, for he grumbles that the country entered World War II lacking modern equipment.

He cites no current weapon as acceptable. Those he admires exist only as adjectives: "rugged, reliable, simple, flexible, easy-to-produce, GI-proof" and--best of all --"effective."

Hackworth is not the first observer to whom such goals have occurred. And--confess it, Pentagon--often those standards are not perfectly met. But it would be easy to make a case that some modern weapons work very well--the A10 attack aircraft; smart bombs that are guided to the target on the first pass; rifles, ammunition, field gear lighter to carry than earlier versions; nuclear submarines; cruise missiles. There are more. Balancing capability and durability is a difficult matter of judgment.

What is more unfortunate about Hackworth's invective, however, is that it feeds the fantasies of those who don't want to believe in defense anyway. If an old soldier says the weapons are junk, why should we buy any? Unfortunately, the Soviets' junk collection is now larger than ours and is growing faster, and for some reason newer junk almost always beats older junk.

When Hackworth does descend to specifics, he is still the army counterinsurgency specialist. Everything should be "lean and mean." Good, but an armed force of 2 million people cannot be run like an elite; and as Patton found in France, it's sporty to be "light on logistics" only until the supplies run out.

Unify the services, he suggests. If he means trim some staff or fix the antiquated Joint Chiefs of Staff, great. But if he's talking about real merger, who needs it? The bickering would last for the rest of the century and be like a gift of 20 divisions to the Soviets.

Tell us your strategy, he begs. Funny, that's what the Joint Chiefs sigh to the secretary of defense every year. It's like your dentist asking you to describe your next toothache. Please list where you and your allies plan to be invaded, all ayatollahs or Polish labor leaders and what they might do, and what your reactions will be. For some reason presidents and other slippery types always respond in generalities.

Be simple, he urges. But unless we want to have 4 million men under arms as do the Soviets, it is our technology and not numbers that will have to save us.

Beat Navy, he chuckles. They don't need their battleship--never mind that, for the price of a destroyer, it gives a platform for missiles and 16i guns in a U.S. Navy with no muzzles bigger than 5i. Anyway, ships can be sunk, he points out. (Fewer ships, fewer targets.) Indeed, since tanks blow up and planes get shot down, maybe we should just call the whole thing off. Too bad the Soviets won't quit, too.

At boot camp they used to say that the hardest part for many recruits was map- reading. Hackworth sees the objective, but it isn't of this world and he can't tell how to get there from here. His solution is to tear up the map.