Westinghouse stops production of AWACS at Linthicum plant

October 22, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

Development and production of AWACS, the Airborne Early Warning and Control System that has been one of the biggest programs in the history of Westinghouse's Anne Arundel County defense complex, is nearing an end after a run of nearly 20 years.

During the massive bombing attacks on Iraq it was not unusual for 200 or more Allied warplanes to be airborne at a time. Serving as the Air Force's traffic cop in the sky was the airborne radar system built by workers at the Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s Electronic Systems Group near Linthicum.

The radar is housed in a 30-foot rotating dome perched atop a military version of the Boeing 707 jetliner. While its exact range is a military secret, Westinghouse has said an AWACS plane flying over Baltimore could monitor the movements of every plane in flight from Hartford, Conn., to Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

After producing 68 AWACS planes, Donald Brannon, a spokesman for Boeing in Seattle, said last week that the production line had been closed and that the company decided in August not to reopen it.

Mr. Brannon said that the last order for the radar portion of the AWACS planes went out to Westinghouse about two years ago.

Jack Martin, a spokesman for Westinghouse, said the AWACS production line at the plant adjacent to Baltimore-Washington International Airport "is shut down, with the exception of some spare parts work."

Mr. Martin said that employees formerly involved in AWACS production have been assigned to other programs. "That's our standard procedure," he added.

As recently as two years ago, between 500 and 600 workers at the BWI complex were involved in the AWACS program. Mr. Martin could not say how many employees are still involved in the program or if the end of this phase of production was a factor in the company's decision to eliminate 2,400 jobs in Maryland this year.

Westinghouse had estimated earlier that the AWACS program accounted for more than $1.5 billion in sales. Production included 34 units for the U.S. Air Force, 18 for NATO countries, five for Saudi Arabia, seven for Britain and four for France.

Mr. Brannon said Boeing was negotiating to sell four AWACS to Japan but concluded it needed orders for at least 14 planes to make it economically feasible to reopen the production line.

He said that AWACS added $5 billion to Boeing's sales over the years and that the company hopes it can get new orders by offering the radar system on a new "platform" -- the industry's term for the airplane that carries the radar.

In the meantime, Boeing and Westinghouse are involved in new programs to upgrade the AWACS now flying. In September 1989, Westinghouse was awarded a $223 million Air Force contract for the full-scale development of an advanced system designed to track smaller targets, such as cruise missiles.

Westinghouse said that the contract represented the most significant upgrade of the AWACS radar since its development in the early 1970s. Mr. Martin called the Air Force contract "an important program" for the Electronic Systems Group but was unable to say how many people are involved in the work.

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