Cheney halts Navy contract for stealth jet Westinghouse unit in Md.could be dealth heavy blow

January 08, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

The Pentagon's decision yesterday to cancel production of the A-12 Avenger attack plane could result in the loss of billions of dollars in new business for Maryland's largest manufacturing employer.

The Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group near Linthicum was a major subcontractor on the new Navy attack plane. It was selected by General Dynamics Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. to supply the radar for the new plane, as well as an infrared system that uses sophisticated electronic optics and heat sensors in detecting targets.

In a brief statement issued last night, Westinghouse officials, who delivered the first Avenger radar system last summer to General Dynamics, expressed disappointment over the cancellation of the Navy contract to produce up to 620 planes at a cost of about $52 billion.

But they said it is "simply too early to determine what the impact will be on our operations."

Westinghouse has about 16,000 employees in Maryland. The majority are at its sprawling complex near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where work on the radar and infrared systems would have been done.

General Dynamics initially awarded the A-12 radar pact to a team composed of Norden Systems Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. But in 1989 it reconsidered and switched the work to Westinghouse.

Westinghouse has declined to put a dollar figure on its A-12 business, but Norden has argued that the contract switch could have cost it several billion in future revenues. Other industry officials have estimated that the contract for the infrared target-detection system could have been worth more than $1 billion.

The Amecom division of Litton Systems Inc. in College Park could also stand to lose from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney's decision. It had been selected to develop and test electronic equipment that would have been used on the A-12 to detect and identify other electronic signals, such as those transmitted by another plane or an anti-aircraft missile and to tell the pilot the source of the signal. Company officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Westinghouse and other contractors can take some comfort from Mr. Cheney's comment yesterday that there is still a need to develop a next generation of strike aircraft and are probably hoping that some of that work might come their way .

One winner in the A-12 controversy could be Grumman Corp., a Bethpage, N.Y., manufacturer of military aircraft that has two plants in Maryland. Defense-industry trade publications have speculated in recent weeks that Grumman could pick up new orders for its F-14D Tomcat as a result of cutbacks in the A-12 program.

Two years ago, when it looked as if Pentagon budget cuts would bring a halt to the production of the F-14 fighter plane, Grumman officials notified the Maryland congressional delegation that if this happened it could result in the closing of its plants in Glen Arm and Salisbury, which have a combined work force of about 700. Grumman officials declined to comment yesterday on Mr. Cheney's decision or on its chances of winning new orders for the F-14.

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