America's outdated battleships no longer rule the waves, but they still command a lot of attention. The four that remain in the Navy's possession are at the center of one last battle: States on both coasts are vying to turn three into museums.

And some in Congress say these mothballed behemoths remain unrivaled in firepower and intimidation and at least two should stay in military reserve.The USS Missouri is already bequeathed to Pearl Harbor, and that leaves several states scrapping for the rights to the USS New Jersey, the Iowa and the Wisconsin.

The competing interests collide this week on Capitol Hill. The Senate Armed Services Committee will consider whether to free up the USS New Jersey to become a museum on New Jersey's waterfront - a move that would take the USS Iowa out of donation status, frustrating efforts to turn it into a museum in San Francisco.

On all sides of the debate is an abiding respect for the four Iowa Class battleships - the New Jersey, Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin - launched between 1942 and 1944 and active in conflicts from World War II to the Persian Gulf War.

"For a show of force, you can't beat the battleship," said William L. Stearman, director of the U.S. Naval Fire Support Association. "Only the battleship can belly up to a hostile area and show the flag and be a show of force."

The USS Missouri's fate is settled. It soon will be towed to Pearl Harbor as a memorial to World War II. The Missouri, on whose decks the Japanese surrendered to end the war, will be permanently docked near the USS Arizona, which was sunk in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack that thrust the United States into the war.

The New Jersey, Wisconsin and Iowa remain in mothball status - moored in Navy shipyards in Bremerton, Wash.; Norfolk, Va.; and Philadelphia respectively.

Some believe it's time for all four battleships to settle into permanent retirement. Jack M. Kennedy, president of the Navy League of the United States, wrote recently that they "are no longer needed and will never again be activated by the Navy Department."

Others disagree.

Warner said the Navy "has yet to make the case that it can adequately support a marine amphibious operation" without a bat-tle-ship's firepower.

Whether they end up as museums or on military standby, Robert Daniels, president of the Iowa Class Preservation Association, welcomes all this interest.

"I just don't want to see these great ships pass into oblivion," said Daniels, a Los Angeles construction company manager.