PARIS -- Thomson-CSF, a state-owned French defense electronics company, is looking to Northrop Corp. to help it continue its planned purchase of LTV Corp.'s missile division after strong opposition to the acquisition from Congress and the U.S. aerospace industry.
"We are exploring possibilities with Northrop," said Colin Boardman, Thomson-CSF's communications director. He declined to give details of the talks but said there could be an announcement soon.
Thomson-CSF has been stung by criticism that it would effectively be taking part of the U.S. defense industry into French government ownership and that it could spirit away sensitive U.S. missile technology for the benefit of the French government.
While mounting a campaign in the media and in Congress to counter its critics, the French company has examined ways of modifying its $300 million cash bid to make it more palatable to U.S. opinion, mainly by involving a U.S. company in the operation.
Northrop, based in Los Angeles, is a major defense electronics contractor with the Pentagon. It makes missiles as well as military aircraft.
Thomson-CSF says it is eager to acquire the LTV missile business because it would be a perfect fit with its own business. Dallas-based LTV makes missiles, and Thomson-CSF makes the guidance and control systems and related electronics.
Despite support for the bid from Dallas Mayor Steve Bartlett, who emphasized that it would safeguard 14,000 jobs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there are signs in Washington that it could be blocked on security grounds.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. is reviewing the purchase and, according to U.S. reports is expected to recommend to President Bush that he block it, at least in its current form.
A report in French newspaper La Tribune de l'Expansion said Thomson-CSF might consider taking minority stake in LTV's missile business alongside an investor such as Northrop.
Thomson-CSF also faces other problems. Thomson-CSF recently learned that it is under investigation by the U.S. Customs Service to determine whether it violated U.S. export laws in 1985 by selling to Iraq laser technology developed in the United States by Martin Marietta Corp.
The company is denying any wrongdoing. Thomson-CSF's Mr. Boardman said the company did sell laser-guided technology to Iraq, but only a downgraded French system and not Martin Marietta's.
Even before the customs investigation, Thomson-CSF was fighting an uphill battle to win over critics.
"It defies logic to suggest that Thomson-CSF would jeopardize its interest in LTV Missiles Division or its future presence in the vital U.S. defense market by doing anything detrimental to U.S. national interests," Thomson-CSF Chairman and Chief Executive Alain Gomez wrote in Defense News last month.
Thomson-CSF officials also say that, despite being state-owned, the company is managed as a profit-making company and that its relations with the French government are less close than those between major U.S. contractors and the Pentagon.