Today's all-volunteer Army is so good that there is no need to return to the draft, Gen. John A. Wickham Jr., newly appointed Army chief of staff, said yesterday.

"They are the best in my 33 years of service," Wickham told reporters at a luncheon. "They'll fight, and they are as patriotic as your or I. They follow orders, and they die."

Wickham said he is so pleased with the quality of today's Army that "we don't need the draft now."

The four-star general said he will give top priority to taking care of his soldiers, putting "quality of life" over hardware when there is not enough money to go around.

He opposed any changes in the military retirement system and said they could lead to non-commissioned officers quitting the service in large numbers.

In contrast to his admiration for today's soldiers, Wickham deplored the sloppy work of defense contractors. He said the major failures of the Copperhead precision artillery shell and the Pershing II missile stemmed from contractors failing to do quality work, and doing such things as leaving out spacing shims in the Pershing.

Wickham said the Army may insist that contractors guarantee the performance of their products and refund money if they break down.