The congressional campaign to keep the Air Force from canceling production of the Boeing air-launched cruise missile opened yesterday with Rep. Norman D. Dicks (D-Wash.) calling for improving it rather than building a new version, as President Reagan is recommending.

Although the administration was saying at this time last year that it intended to buy 440 Boeing cruise missiles, called the ALCM B, in fiscal 1984, it has decided to forgo that purchase and switch to a "Stealth" missile, one harder for Soviet gunners to detect and shoot down.

The Soviets have deployed more SA10 anti-aircraft missiles than anticipated, sources said yesterday, and have built warplanes that pose a bigger threat to the launching bombers as well as the ALCM B cruise missiles. In light of the improved air defenses, the Air Force decided to hold a new competition for a Stealth cruise missile, with the contract to be awarded in March.

The ALCM B is produced in Dicks' home state. "The real issue," he said yesterday, "is whether small improvements in the ALCM B can be made to improve the penetrating capability of the missile at a much lower cost than proceeding with an entirely new program."