Army and Navy, the most unlikely of partners when it comes to the business of football, are orchestrating a merger. Athletic department officials at the academies have hired a communications firm to form a joint radio network that will carry both schools' football games this fall.

The Army-Navy network also will carry basketball games and perhaps coaches' shows on a nationwide basis, Navy Athletic Director Jack Lengyel said yesterday at a luncheon with Washington Post editors and reporters. The number and distribution of affiliates are yet to be determined.

"It'll be as big as there is interest to sustain it," Army Athletic Director Al Vanderbush said by telephone. "Hopefully this format will provide us with a larger network than we've had in the past. . . . We get along pretty well with Navy when we're not playing them on the football field."

Lengyel said he hopes to have a large Washington station included in the network.

The Midshipmen's second-year athletic director has been busy in recent months, having hired football coach George Chaump and arranged Navy's move in other sports from the Colonial Athletic Association to the newly formed Patriot League. Renovations have been made to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium -- including installation of $100,000 worth of new turf -- and a new basketball arena is on the way as well.

"I'm pleased with the direction we're taking," Lengyel said. "We're a leadership academy, so the bottom line in every sport is to win more than we lose. We want to be nationally competitive, and I think we will be."