James R. Ambrose, who as undersecretary of the Army since 1981 has guided the service's rearmament program, discussed the problem of getting a better antitank weapon than the Dragon.

"You're looking at something that should have gotten changed out a long time ago . . . . It was part of the general failure -- whether by the Army, Department of Defense, the Congress or everybody together -- to perceive that there has to be a shorter cycle" in developing new weapons to keep up with the threat.

"An institutional reason" for not improving existing weapons like the Dragon "is the fear that if you say we can fix this one up somewhat, then you won't get more . . . . My view is that you ought to have one {weapon} pretty fully fielded; you ought to have one that's just going into service, and you ought to have something on the drawing board. That isn't any different than automobiles, computers, airplanes or whatever in the private sector.

"But there are all kinds of institutional inhibitions {in the Army} against working that way. You see those operating in the Dragon, which the Army has known for a long time was not a particularly good weapon -- short range, not particularly lethal, knock your ear off if you're not careful."

But now the Army plans "to patch up" some Dragon warheads until it has a better weapon. "There's no way of pretending that that is anything but a crutch; that we want to get rid of it {the Dragon} as fast as we can. It should have been done long ago . . . . "

The Army favored "tanks, Bradley {fighting vehicles}, Apache {helicopters} and stuff like that" when it came to apportioning money. "Even the infantry favored getting the Bradley, not the infantryman stuff. I guess I can lay some small claim to having pushed the other way . . . . I thought the infantryman was getting short-sheeted big time" and told "the Army over and over that you're focused on the machinery, not the people. You've got to keep the people alive . . . . "

Lt. Col. Douglas E. MacFarlane commands a simulated Soviet motorized rifle regiment which has battled many U.S. Army mechanized infantry units at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. His views, formed after fighting scores of armor engagements at the center and participating in infantry battles in Vietnam, offer unusual insight into the demands of conventional warfare.

Once you cross the line of departure, chaos begins. What you need to do {to be a successful field commander} is get accustomed to it. That's Army doctrine: 'Hey, it's going to be goofed up, so be ready for it.' The reason they're {U.S. Army units} losing out here on the desert is that they're learning.

"Combat techniques are the same for any army: attack, defend, delay and move to new positions . . . . All you learn out here is that things go wrong every day. The person who can learn from that {and} recover . . . is going to be successful . . . .

"Nothing anymore is set piece because new, faster equipment, instant communications" quickly change everything on the battlefield. "People have just got to be able to make smart decisions very quickly. No longer is there time like there was in the Civil War for the general to ride back to his tent, light up a cigar, take a shot of bourbon and ask his deputy, 'What are we going to do tomorrow, Harry?'

"Instead it's like what's going to happen in five minutes now that my scouts are vaporized? We have seen battalion commanders come out here who have not known their business . . . . "

NATO's forward defense strategy, which calls for stacking tanks along the front lines, raises the question whether "we can stop them at the border with tanks nosed up to the line. I can't believe it.

"We've tried that out here. There's nothing the {fake Soviet} regiment likes more than a defense like that. We can pick any point and just keep banging away at that point until we break through. Once you are through the crust," past the front-line combat units, you face lesser forces in support roles.