THE AIR IS thick with plans to reorganize the Pentagon. The House approved one last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee has reported out another, the president's Blue Ribbon Commission on Defense Management -- the Packard commission -- has recommended a third. In an effort to sharpen both the planning that the military does and the advice it gives, all would give greater authority of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To deal with procurement problems, the Packard commission would also create a new undersecretary of defense for acquisition.

These are weighty proposals. They would reallocate power in the largest and in many ways most powerful part of the government. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, Navy Secretary John Lehman and the current service chiefs have all objected at one time or another to enlarging the role of the chairman. The offices they hold and the institutional interests that they represent would lose power as his gained. And demur though the authors will, the reorganization plans are also commentaries on how well the current officeholders have performed. You fix what you think is broken.

On paper the proposals make good sense. Military planning now is said to be driven by rivalry and compensating clubbiness among the services, a tendency to blur too many differences and apportion roles and weapons so that no service need go away mad. It is thought that a stronger chairman of the chiefs could overcome these inclinations, just as an undersecretary for acquisition might be able to reduce the layering that afflicts procurement (though such an executive might also simply add a layer). There are also proposals to shorten the cumbersome chain of command by strengthening the CINCs, the commanders-in-chief in the field who must carry out operations.

But none of these prairthy ideas is a solution; that is what has to be remembered about them, on all sides. The disputes that are dogging defense now have to do not with process, but with substance. Would a different table of organization have produced a different buildup in the past five years? Altered the budget totals? Altered the weapons choices? Altered the performance of contractors? Reorganized lines of authority can help, perhaps considerably. But political will is the essential ingredient.