U.S. defense officials are concerned that the lack of procedures worked out with Saudi Arabia for the command of U.S. and allied ground forces there is hampering preparations for possible military action against Iraq.

Despite outward signs of comity and cooperation between U.S. and Saudi military officials, several senior U.S. officials said the Americans have been frustrated in their efforts to integrate their forces with those of Saudi Arabia and to develop a chain of command that establishes clear decision-making authority over movements of ground troops.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III plans to push for more detailed procedures when he holds talks in Saudi Arabia today, including greater delineation of command responsibilities between Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the senior U.S. military official there, and his Saudi counterpart, Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan.

The officials said that during the three months since U.S. troops began arriving in the desert kingdom, Saudi officials declined U.S. requests for joint maneuvers of infantry and armored units. The first joint desert encampment and training exercise of the two armies began only a week ago.

"Schwarzkopf has a good liaison with his Saudi counterpart, but that's not a command and control structure," a senior U.S. defense official said in an interview last week. "{This is} the area Schwarzkopf is working hardest on."

"If hostilities become imminent, we will need to make modifications and decide who's in charge," a senior military official said.

The defense official said there was no final U.S. authority or even consistent U.S. lead in decision-making on ground forces. "It's not what one would like to have from the military point of view," he said of the routine, and by all accounts, amicable consultations between Schwarzkopf and Khalid.

U.S. officials said they are much more satisfied with U.S.-Saudi collaboration in operations involving military aircraft deployed on Saudi territory. The operations are routinely coordinated from airborne warning and control system planes jointly staffed by U.S. and Saudi personnel, with the Saudis following the U.S. lead "95 percent of the time," one official said. He said

the Saudis retain the right to withdraw their planes from any operation.

As hundreds of thousands of troops from more than 15 nations continue to pour into Saudi Arabia, battlefield confusion could arise from the fact that some Arab forces there have Soviet-made equipment similar to that deployed by Iraq.

Khalid and Schwarzkopf recently issued separate orders to redeploy adjacent U.S. and Syrian troops in the Saudi desert, for example, because of fears that U.S. soldiers would mistakenly fire at Syrian tanks, which are shaped like those held by Iraq.

In a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Schwarzkopf said his arrangement with Khalid was "exactly identical to what existed in Vietnam." The senior U.S. commander there was responsible for combat operations involving forces from at least four allied nations, while the senior Vietnamese commander retained control of his own forces.

But unlike the senior U.S. commander in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf has only U.S. and British forces to command, while Khalid is said to have loose responsibility for tactical deployments of Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi and French forces.

Schwarzkopf said that in Vietnam, "every one of those nations was sensitive about their sovereignty and how their forces were used. They didn't willingly give their forces over to some commander from some other sovereign state who would use them as he saw fit. That is very much what we have here."

A U.S. official said of the French decision not to join the British under U.S. command that "no one likes it -- even the Saudis." He said "we would rather see the French over with us," but that Paris has so far declined to let its forces be directly linked with other troops associated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). France withdrew from the integrated NATO command in 1966.

Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney told a recent news conference in Moscow that "at present, everyone sort of has their own arrangement with the Saudi government, and the Saudis clearly have to be consulted and get involved in all of those decisions." He added that command "is an area that needs work."

The senior U.S. defense official said some of the difficulty in integrating U.S. and Saudi forces stems from shortcomings in the Saudi command and control apparatus for its own forces and those of other Arab nations. He said the Saudi army of 40,000 men had virtually "nonexistent procedures" for command, with little capability to plan operations above the level of a combat brigade. Senior U.S. officials have testified that until now, the Saudis did not fear a land invasion and had made few preparations for one.

One official said Baker would likely advise the Saudis "to listen and make use of" the Egyptian military, which developed sophisticated command procedures in past conflicts with Israel.