If there is a champion to emerge from the Persian Gulf War thus far, it appears to be American high technology. But the weapons wizardry that dazzles millions of television viewers nightly is not as technologically sophisticated as it might seem.

Many of the U.S. weapons systems in the gulf are based on proven technologies similar to those people commonly take for granted in everyday life and could be more advanced were the Pentagon better able to keep pace with rapid advances in electronics, some experts said.

"The weapons actually being used in Desert Storm embody technology in general that's at least a decade old," said William J. Perry, a member the Pentagon's advisory Defense Science Board and former undersecretary of defense. "There's been two generations of computer and semiconductor {advances} that have taken place in the commercial field since the technology was incorporated into the weapons systems now fielded."

The F-15 and F-16 fighters, for example, went into production in the early and mid-1970s, while the workhorse B-52 bomber dates from the 1950s. Even some of the so-called "smart weapons" that guide themselves through darkness to faraway targets stem from mid-1970s. And development of what became the much-heralded Patriot air defense system began in the 1960s.

While the Pentagon does make periodic improvements in weapon systems, it has difficulty in quickly incorporating big leaps in technology because of the demanding design requirements of its weapons systems and the bureaucratic delays in its development process, according to some scientists.

"The kind of technology you'll find in a Sony Watchman TV is far more advanced than what you'll see in a typical military system today," said a Defense Department technologist, who requested anonymity.

Such critics do not mean to play down the apparent successes in the gulf war. Opinion is nearly universal that U.S. weaponry is more advanced than any other nation's and that defense companies seem to have mastered the toughest challenge -- linking together many different elements into a unified system that can perform with split-second timing under harsh environmental conditions. And in certain specialized technologies -- those involving image recognition and missile guidance -- nothing in the commercial sector rivals what the Pentagon has produced.

But where the defense establishment falls short, some experts said, is in the ability to quickly harness advances in microelectronics, the science of embedding circuitry into fingernail-sized computer chips that perform calculations and process information at blinding speeds by routing and storing electrical charges within a microscopic grid.

The calculating power of silicon chips has been multiplying five-fold every five years for the past two decades thanks to continuing advances in miniaturizing circuits and accelerating processing speeds. As more processing capability is embedded onto smaller and smaller circuits, the products incorporating these chips can shrink in size and weight.

But more often than not, companies selling goods to the public can take advantage of these leaps well before the Pentagon. The result is that many of today's desktop computers are, by one common measure, able to process data faster than the computers the Army would use to coordinate weapon control and placement in a Persian Gulf ground war.

The laser, an early star of the Persian Gulf conflict, is actually a commonly used technology. Supermarket scanners, compact disc players and tools for performing delicate eye surgery all employ some type of laser, a 30-year-old technology. The variety of laser routinely used on assembly lines to cut and weld metals is similar to the type that amazed millions of television viewers when it flawlessly guided a bomb into the narrow air shaft of an Iraqi building.

Laser experts weren't overly impressed. "There is nothing really exotic about the laser used in the designators," said Anthony Siegman, a Stanford University professor and laser specialist.

Xerox Corp. said it figures that the beam in its newest laser printer, used in offices to produce publication-quality documents, maintains a precision -- hour after hour -- roughly equivalent to a fighter directing a laser to within one foot of an intended target from a mile away.

Some experts have argued that the precision of weapons can only get better if the Pentagon succeeds in incorporating technological advances more quickly. For example, "smart missiles" work by sensing heat, shapes or images and then rapidly processing the data. The better a weapon can juggle the blizzard of incoming data, the more accurately it can distinguish targets.

The sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, deployed in the opening moments of the war, is such a "smart" weapon, zooming toward targets by rapidly comparing pictures stored in its on-board computer with those it snaps during flight.

But Gerald Miller, the Tomahawk's technical director, called it "not that high tech" today.

The missile, the development of which dates to the mid-1970s, is undergoing another in a series of electronics make-over intended to dramatically shorten the time needed to plan a course and reach a target.

The planned improvements will harness more processing power to enable the Tomahawk to "recognize" ground scenes that it cannot now distinguish from surrounding terrain.

Some experts, less enamored with technology, have argued that Congress and the administration should resist the temptation to hurriedly endorse even more complex military systems.

They applaud the Pentagon's traditional go-slow approach, saying the military must take care to minimize risk and abide by technical development and manufacturing standards, so that weapons systems work well together. Also, weapons must be "hardened" against radiation and "ruggedized" so as to withstand extreme temperatures, dust and rainfall. All this adds time and expense, but there is a payoff, the experts said.

"There are two sides to the argument," said Jeremy Tennenbaum, an aerospace analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc. investment firm. "One side is the stuff works. It has been debugged. But it gives you yesterday's" technology.

Some also question how effective an arsenal of satellites and sophisticated weaponry would prove to be in a brutal ground battle.

Few people dispute that the technologies underlying commercial and military products are becoming more similar.

For decades, the Pentagon took the lead in technology development, followed by the private sector, but now the commercial and military worlds run neck and neck, drawing on many of the same technologies and simply applying them in different ways.

The convergence suggests that the Pentagon should be able to capitalize on commercial advances, but such efforts have met with mixed success.

"During the '80s, while the technologies have grown closer, the barriers have grown," said Jacques S. Gansler, author of "Affording Defense" and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. "It's the regulations that are the barriers."

According to Gansler, many companies that sell to both civilian and military customers continue to find the Pentagon's requirements so unusual that they have to build special factories for those products, forgoing cost savings that could be gained from mass production and technology sharing.

Even the Pentagon is giving tacit acknowledgment that the commercial world is gaining an edge by looking to the private sector for some ideas to use in weapons systems of the future. Pentagon officials discovered intriguing technology in, of all places, Hollywood.

The Air Force, for instance, is hoping to apply to reconnaissance aircraft a standard set by the broadcast and movie industries to electronically store photographs. When a plane with the new equipment lands, photos shot from the air could be analyzed immediately on computer screens, eliminating film development.

In a more recent example of courting the entertainment community, a military contractor has turned to a tiny California computer game company as a potential source of software to simulate F-16 flight.

The company, Spectrum Holobyte, has a $69.95 Falcon video game that caught the eye of a retired fighter pilot now working for a Pentagon contractor. The company and the contractor have teamed up to build training simulators they hope to sell to the military for $300,000 apiece.