As the risk of military confrontation with the Soviet Union grows, the last thing the United States is "business-as-usual" interservice jealousy at the Pentagon.

But the Air Force appears to be putting its prestige -- and its share of the military budget -- ahead of national security. In the eyes of some Air Force brass, the Navy is the enemy, not the Kremlin.

Faced with increasing congressional doubts about the $50 billion "racetrack shuttle" proposed to protect MX missiles from a Soviet first strike, the Air Force has resorted to attacks on a comparable alternative that would give the Navy primary responsibility for strategic defense of the U.S. mainland. t

The Pentagon's answer to the danger of a surprise Soviet attack on land-based missiles is to construct 4,600 silos connected by tracks across miles of Nevada and Utah desert. The 200 MX missiles aimed at targets in the Soviet Union would be shuttled back and forth to confuse the Soviets, much like a carnival shell game.

Aside from the staggering cost of the shuttle system and opposition from residents of the areas affected, critics have pointed out that without an effective SALT II treaty, the Soviets could theoretically target a missile on each of the 4,600 silos. They could find the "pea" by picking all the walnut shells.

With these drawbacks to discount, the Air Force has panicked at the suggestion of an alternative missile umbreall that could cost less, doesn't upset the environment and could be harder for the Soviets to neutralize.

The alternative is the Shallow Underwater Missile System (SUM), developed by scientists Sidney Drell and Richard Garwin. It proposes hiding our missiles on mini-submarines that would cruise the coastal waters of the United States.

Although SUM has yet to be proven better than the land-based MX system, it deserves scrutiny. But in secret briefings and public hearings, the Air Force has repeatedly tired to blow SUM out of the water by raising a fear it knows is unfounded. Tidal waves caused by nuclear explosion could destroy the missile-bearing submarines, the Air Force claims. e

What the Air Force neglects to say is that the destructive effect of a tidal wave on submerged subs is limited to those caught cruising the continental shelf. As Garwin has noted, "our proposal calls for deploying this force in coastal strips 200 miles wide in order to distribute the mini-subs over a broad enough ocean area so that the force cannot be barraged at any depth."

Nevertheless, Air Force brasshats continue to raise the spurious specter of tidal waves to discredit the alternate plan -- and keep the Air Force No. 1 in the Pentagon pecking order.