A few weeks from now, without fanfare, the U.S. Army will end an era. The first replacements for the venerable jeep will roll into the ranks of the 9th Infantry Division.

To the innocent eye, this son-of-jeep, which the Army calls the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle and everyone else involved calls Hummer, will make a simple journey by rail from a factory in Mishawaka, Ind., to the troops at Fort Lewis, Wash.

But, following the Pentagon's bureaucratic road map, the Hummer will travel by Form DD250 from TACOM to FORSCOM, concluding a voyage begun 45 years ago when the Army first dreamed of a jeep successor.

Hummer's odyssey in the past few years has included such exotic landmarks as TRADOC and AMCCOM and DCSRDA, CECOM and MICOM and OTEA, DCSOPS and AMSAA and CAC. Overseeing all this were, among innumerable others, the TSM and the FISO and the flinty-eyed DASC.

If all of that boggles and baffles, at least one thing about Hummer is clear: the staggering bureaucratic maze through which even a relatively simple weapon system must travel to reach the field.

Sixty-three agencies and military commands, from the Army Soldier Support Center to the Air Force Air Weather Service, had to be notified when the Pentagon officially blessed Hummer's creation in 1980. That does not begin to include others involved from such provinces of officialdom as the Small Business Administration and a dozen congressional committees.

Collectively, they fashioned a vehicle that is, not surprisingly, bigger, heavier, faster and more expensive than the jeep.

Defenders of the Pentagon's buying system argue that just because a bureaucracy is big does not necessarily mean it is bad. Hummer, they point out, is about to reach the troops, almost on schedule.

Independent auditors agree that the vehicle appears to be a commendable improvement over its predecessors, despite dozens of nettlesome glitches during development, from faulty brakes to fractured axles.

What Hummer shows, however, is what kind of customer the defense industry must deal with and how contorted even the straightforward has become in the arms business.

The process of fielding a new weapon is so ponderous that it took 20 years to develop a new tank, and the Army is still looking for an effective light antitank weapon after a string of false starts.

There is nothing revolutionary in Hummer's technology. It uses basic, off-the-shelf American automotive know-how. Even so, the $1.2 billion program has had hundreds, perhaps thousands, of military midwives lending a hand in Hummer's birth, all on the public payroll.

The Army's burgeoning bureaucracy is partly self-inflicted and partly imposed by congressional watchdogs. The service now has more officers than it had officers and enlisted men combined when the jeep was born in 1938.

Several key participants in Hummer's development were asked whether the vehicle is coming to life because of, or despite, the bureaucracy.

"That's another case that's hard to say," answered Col. Joseph A. Petrolino Jr., the Hummer's program manager.

"The bureaucratic syndrome exists through the world," added Eugene Zembrzuski, executive vice president of AM General, Hummer's contractor. "It's something in the nature of the beast . . . . If you're going to be in this business, you've got to be prepared to deal with that."

Col. Paul Goncz, who helps shepherd Hummer from the Pentagon, gave his questioner a direct, unblinking stare before replying.

"You think I'm going to answer that?" Learning the Ropes

Here is how Capt. Edwin J. Messinger learned the ropes on Hummer.

"I was sitting here at the desk one day, and we had a major who was leaving for Saudi Arabia," Messinger recalled. "He dropped about 16 pounds of Hummer files on me and said, 'It's all yours, bub. Bye.'

"For the first two months, whenever anybody called me with a question, I said, 'I'll get back to you.' "

That was two years ago. Now the young captain is an expert on Hummer, both the vehicle and the bureaucracy that houses it like a garage. He can explain, for instance, that he is a TRASSO, a TRADOC systems staff officer and that TRADOC is the Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., which thinks of itself as the "user representative" during the development of new weapons.

That is not to be confused with the "material developer," Messinger continued, which is the Army Materiel Command (AMC). AMC, after long and thoughtful study, changed its name to DARCOM (U.S. Army Materiel Development and Readiness Command) in 1976 and then, after more long and thoughtful study, changed it back to AMC last year.

But Messinger, the TRASSO, is not the user representative. That job falls to the TRADOC system manager, or TSM (pronounced "tism"), at Fort Benning, Ga. Sensing befuddlement, Messinger reaches for an example to illustrate the flow chart.

"Let's say a lug wrench on the vehicle is unacceptable to the user because it's too heavy," he says. The TSM will be the first to complain.

The TSM will send a report to CCEMWD (pronounced "cook-em-wad," for Close Combat, Engineering and Mine Warfare Directorate),where Messinger works. Messinger will tell a colonel, who is expert in what used to be called "infantry" but is known at TRADOC as "close combat, light."

That's just the beginning. The TRASSO's colonel in combat development checks with colonels in other TRADOC "directorates," such as soldier development or force integration. If all agree that the lug wrench is too heavy, a report is prepared, approved by the commanding general and sent to the Pentagon.

There, the FISO (Force Integrating Staff Officer) leaps into action. "He's the guy who ties it all together in DA (Department of the Army)," Messinger said.

Actually, the FISO ties it only within that portion of DA known as DCSOPS (pronounced "Des-ops"), the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. At DCSRDA ("Des-rada"), the Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development and Acquisition, the FISO has a counterpart called the DASC, or Department of the Army Systems Coordinator.

The FISO and the DASC confer. AMC (formerly DARCOM) may send its program manager, Col. Petrolino, who works for one of AMC's minor commands, TACOM (the Tank and Automotive Command). Petrolino may have his WSM (pronounced "wism," for weapon systems manager) call the manufacturer, which tells the Army whether a lighter lug wrench will suffice.

"Obviously," Messinger said, "you've got a lot of people out there answering to constituencies that want to know if the money is being spent wisely."

Equally obvious is the complexity implied when the micromanagement revealed by this theoretical lug wrench is extrapolated to an entire weapon system. And the alphabet soup of acronyms pertinent to Hummer hardly hints at the breadth of bureaucracy involved in a system simultaneously building more than 170 kinds of weapons, many infinitely more complex than a latter-day jeep.

As Thomas V. Jones, president of Northrop Corp., joked, "The Pentagon is like a log floating down a river with 10,000 ants aboard, and each one thinks he's steering."

Even a recent Central Intelligence Agency study concluded, "Anything that succeeds in U.S. weapons acquisition seems to do so in spite of the system, rather than because of it."

Messinger said he thinks that the system of checks and balances catches more problems than it causes. But it also means hundreds of people up and down the chain are buried in paperwork when someone at the top asks a question.

"I can't be vehement enough about that," he said. "All it takes is for Sen. John C. Stennis D-Miss. to stand up and say, 'Hey, does the Humvee work?' and for the next two months I'll be busy like you can't believe."

Humvee? Yes. The Army officially refuses to acknowledge the name Hummer, in part because it rhymes with bummer. The service instead opts for HMMWV, which the Army insists is pronounced "Hum-vee."

In a simpler age, when the horse and the motorcycle sidecar were being replaced, the jeep's name was shorthand for G.P., which stood for "general purpose." The Army 'Begats'

When the U.S. auto industry began cranking out thousands of tanks for the Allied armies in 1942, the Army created a small bureaucracy called the Tank Automotive Center (TAC) to supervise the job.

TAC begat OCOD (Office, Chief of Ordnance) in 1945, which begat OTAC (Ordnance Tank Automotive Center) in 1950, which begat both MOCOM (Mobility Command) and ATAC (Army Tank-Automotive Center) in 1962. MOCOM died in 1967, and ATAC begat TACOM (Tank and Automotive Command), which in 1976 begat both TARCOM (Tank-Automotive Materiel Readiness Command) and TARADCOM (Tank-Automotive Research and Development Command).

In 1980, TARCOM and TARADCOM merged back into TACOM, which today has more than 6,000 employes working in the Detroit suburb of Warren. A TACOM spokesman calls it a "paperwork palace."

Col. Petrolino has been the Hummer program manager (more precisely: project manager, light tactical vehicles, TACOM) only since July, but he can name players in the game not even hinted at by Messinger.

To plan Hummer's future spare parts needs, he calls AMCCOM (the Armament, Munitions and Chemical Command). To talk about Hummer's role as missile carrier, he calls MICOM (the Missile Command). Before sending Hummers to Fort Lewis, he has to execute an MFA (Material Fielding Agreement) with FORSCOM (Forces Command).

In recent months, Petrolino has spent three quarters of his time on the road, mostly in Washington. He briefed the Army's vice chief of staff three times, the undersecretary of the Army twice, three-star generals of the Army staff twice, two-star generals on the same staff several times, AMC's deputy commanding general for research and development several times, the Army deputy undersecretary for research twice, not to mention Marine generals and TRADOC colonels, CECOM majors and General Accounting Office auditors.

There are 43 Defense Department inspectors at the Mishawaka plant, but they do not report to Petrolino. They report to an Army major who reports to a colonel who works for DCAS (the Defense Contract Administrative Service) in Indianapolis, who reports to another colonel in Columbus, Ohio, who reports to the Defense Logistics Agency in Washington.

And then there is the inevitable paper.

"Memos, messages, reports, plans, briefings, paper to support briefings," Petrolino said. "Weekly reports, weekly electronic mail, weekly significant action reports. Monthly program manager control system reports . . . . Reports on financial management obligations, quality reports, testing reports . . . . The more detail that Congress asks for, the more detail that every other layer of the system asks for . . . It ripples down."

All of which frustrates an officer who commanded a maintenance battalion in West Germany with few superiors looking over his shoulder.

"I think this is a much harder job, an infinitely harder job, than being a troop commander," Petrolino said. "You control your destiny more there than you control it here." And What of HEMTT?

Col. Paul Goncz sits in the Pentagon's D Ring, reflecting philosophically on nearly 30 years in the Army, the last six devoted to bringing Hummer to life.

Lean and craggy, Goncz radiates a love of trucks that began at birth -- his father was a Hungarian truck-line operator who emigrated to Boston in the 1920s. "My job, very crudely stated, is to get money from the Congress for what we need," he says.

He recounted the highs and lows of Hummer's gestation with remarkable recall for dates and times, such as the unsuccessful attempt by Sen. William V. Roth Jr. (R-Del.) to freeze money for the vehicle at 2 a.m. last June 21.

Then there was the Small Business Administration's sudden decree on Feb. 8, 1980, that the Hummer contract be awarded to a small and disadvantaged business. It took nearly a year to get the SBA to back off.

All in all, Goncz says, "there may be faults and flaws in this organization, but I don't know a better way." He sees Hummer as a kind of legacy bequeathed the Army, a capable vehicle that he says costs about what it was supposed to cost at $25,000 each.

If HMMWV is, in fact, on track, that will leave more time for Goncz's successor to fret over HEMTT (pronounced "he-met"), an ordinary 10-ton that the Army melodically dubbed the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.

After buying hundreds of HEMTTs, the Army discovered a disturbing tendency for the rear axle to break. When the rear axle was strengthened, the front axle broke.

Consequently, the Army found itself with 1,800 HEMTTs parked on a lot, awaiting new axles. The issue of who will pay for the repairs remains unresolved. TACOM and DCSRDA are working the problem.