Jet sale to Taiwan may lift local Westinghouse plant

September 11, 1992|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

The recent decision by President Bush to authorize a $6 billion sale of 150 F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan could bring a spurt of business to the local Westinghouse division that supplies the aircraft's radar.

Joseph Stout, a spokesman for the General Dynamics Corp. plant in Fort Worth, Texas, where the F-16 is built, said yesterday that the proposed sale could preserve 3,000 jobs at peak production in 1997 and keep the door open for more foreign sales in the future.

General Dynamics has built more than 3,000 F-16 fighters since 1972 for the U.S. Air Force and more than a dozen foreign countries. Each one was equipped with a Westinghouse radar made in Linthicum.

The F-16 program has been the local Westinghouse division's largest individual contract over the past decade, accounting for more than $5 billion in revenues.

During peak production in the late 1980s, a period when General Dynamics was building 30 planes a month, the jobs of about 1,000 workers at Westinghouse's Linthicum complex were linked the F-16 program.

But the long-running F-16 program has been winding down in recent years, and the number of Westinghouse workers involved in the production of its radar has declined to about 300.

While part of this is because of more efficient productivity, it is also linked to dwindling aircraft production. During peak production in the late 1980s, General Dynamics was building 30 F-16s a month.

Mr. Stout said production is scheduled to drop from the current rate of 16 planes a month to 10 next year and to only four in 1994 -- assuming Congress approves an administration plan to purchase 24 F-16s each year going well into the future.

Mr. Stout said the impact of the Taiwan sale would not be felt immediately.

Shipments are slated to begin in 1995 and run through the end of the decade.

Mr. Stout explained that the longer the F-16 assembly line at General Dymanics' Fort Worth plant remains active, the more chance the company has of finding even more foreign buyers.

However, Westinghouse officials were not nearly as willing to talk about the potential business impact of the Taiwan sale as their colleagues at General Dynamics.

Westinghouse issued a short statement yesterday saying that it was "very pleased that the president has approved the sales of the F-16 aircraft to Taiwan."

Its statement went on to say: "When the procurement arrangements are completed, this purchase along with other foreign military sales will assure our continued production of high-performance airborne radars for fighter aircraft through the 1990s."

The Westinghouse F-16 fire control radar gives pilots information on their heading and altitude. It also spots enemy aircraft beyond visual range and guides air-to-air missiles during combat.

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