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Unscrambling the Joint Chiefs

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff is not waiting for his impending retirement to say what's on his mind. Air Force Gen. David C. Jones is proposing major reforms in Joint Chiefs operation, the first chairman to do so while still on the job. He deserves a salute for drawing attention to the ''intramural scramble for resources'' among the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, whether or not his specific remedies are the ones to be chosen.

This scramble over weapons systems and other resources becomes evident whenever budgets are to be carved up. The final results are supposed to be the outcome of resolved scrambles. General Jones suggests that if the scrambles go on as usual the nation's defense capabilities could be undermined.

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Writing in a magazine and talking with reporters last week, the general acknowledged that the various services understandably want to preserve their sovereignty and conserve hard-won prerogatives. ''Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that our national security today requires the integration of service efforts more than at any time in our history. To attempt to achieve meaningful integration only through the existing committee system is to leave it at the mercy of well-proven institutional counterpressures.''

What the chairman proposes is not only more authority for the chairman's office but achievement of a ''middle ground'' drawing on the strengths of the separate services. He says he will make recommendations to the administration including legislative proposals.

These will be awaited with the greatest interest. Whatever the frustrations General Jones notes within his organization, they are matched by the public's frustrations of another sort. These lie in not knowing whether given weapons systems are the agreed best for the country or the product of inner combat and trade-offs that may or may not bring the same conclusions.

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