The Army has had a difficult year. In August, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger cancelled DIVAD, its divisional air defense gun, on grounds it "didn't work well enough." That was after $1.8 billion had been spent. Now a second major item in its procurement budget is under fire, the Bradley fighting vehicle. The Army has already bought 3,000 of a planned 7,000 of these, for about $1.5 million apiece. Two questions persist. One concerns the vulnerability of the Bradley, the other the credibility of the Army.

The Army is now in the midst of the military equivalent of spring house-cleaning, a top-to-bottom modernization program to replace old makes of weaponry and equipment with new. The Bradley is part of this, as was the DIVAD. The vehicle began with a fairly simple purpose; it was to ferry troops into combat, as successor to the Army's old M113 troop carrier. It had to be fast, as Army vehicles go, because the new M1 tank is also fast. Then the Army decided the Bradley ought to be able to "fight" as well, even to the point of knocking out enemy tanks. It was duly equipped with 25- mm cannon and anti-tank missiles.

The elaboration of the Bradley into a fighting vehicle helped drive up its cost, and at the same time made it much more likely to become a target on the battlefield. Cost and this likelihood of exposure combined to accentuate the question of vulnerability -- the more so because, to stay fast, the Bradley could not be too heavily armored. There were calls from both Congress and within the Pentagon for realistic tests of the vehicle's ability to withstand enemy fire, particularly given all the fuel and ammunition it would be carrying.

Critics complained last year that the Army -- the "armor community," as one Pentagon official sourly put it -- was resisting such tests; the Army denied it. A Bradley loaded with fuel and ammunition was finally subjected to anti-tank fire this year. The results have not been released. The Army says the Bradley was never expected to be able to withstand such fire, and did well. But it has also announced plans to build "survivability improvements" into existing and future Bradleys, at a possible cost of about $75,000 apiece.

The non-believers, led by Rep. Denny Smith, who was also a leader in the fight against the DIVAD, say the Army is trying to paper over the Bradley's problems -- that, as with DIVAD, the Army tried to make a weapon do too much and is now trying to cover up a mistake in conception. They point to testimony in 1978 in which an Army general assured a congressional committee that the Bradley would "fight side by side" with the M1 tank; now other generals are saying the Bradley should "stand back."

The Bradley appears to have been overbuilt for one of its purposes, underbuilt for the other. That is not an outcome anyone can be especially happy with.