The General Accounting Office, we reported a few weeks back, has been trying to persuade the Army to hold down production on its new main battle tank, the M1, because of some early performance problems. It would be better, GAO says, for the Army to be sure those problems are fixed first.

Maj. Gen. James P. Malone, director of weapons systems for Department of the Army, has written to tell us why he disagrees. Early failures did occur in the M1 program, he said, and the Army convened a panel of scientific and technical types to evaluate the problems. "The panel reported that after already-designed corrections are made . . . durability should meet or exceed the requirement," Malone wrote. The corrections have been made, Malone said, "and we believe that to follow the GAO-proposed stretchout of production would needlessly increase program costs and delay the buildup of this vital weapon."

He also said GAO's measurements of the M1's reliability did not reflect the real picture and claimed, "The M1 achieved 350 tough miles between failures; the goal was 320 miles. This is very, very good for early models of a new tank."

Malone said the Army is paying $1.7 million per tank, a figure that does not include research and development costs. When those numbers are added, the figure jumps to $2.6 million. The Army wants to buy 7,058 tanks for about $18.6 billion, including R&D.