WASHINGTON -- The Defense Department said yesterday that it would cancel the troubled new Navy attack aircraft unless the Navy proves the plane is worth buying.
If the $57 billion A-12 warplane program, which is in the development stages, is canceled, it would be one of the the largest weapons systems ever eliminated by the Pentagon.
The aircraft, known as the Avenger, is a carrier-based, radar-evading warplane that is at least 18 months behind schedule and more than $1 billion over cost.
"The A-12 program is in serious trouble," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in a memorandum to Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III released by the Pentagon yesterday.
"The apparent schedule slippage, cost growth and management deficiencies in this program are intolerable," Mr. Cheney said. "If we cannot spend the taxpayers' money wisely, we will not spend it."
Mr. Cheney gave the Navy until Jan. 4 to show why the Pentagon should not cancel the aircraft program.
The Avenger is being developed by McDonnell Douglas Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., both of St. Louis, to replace the aging A-6, or Intruder.
Yesterday's announcement caps a string of recent setbacks for the program.
On Wednesday, the Defense Department's chief acquisition official, John A. Betti, resigned under pressure after a Pentagon inspector general's report criticized his handling of the A-12 program.
Eight days earlier, the Navy retired a three-star admiral and transferred two other senior officers for failing to inform top officials about serious cost overruns and delays.