Supporters aim to revive Westinghouse jammer

April 24, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Struggling to revive a weapons program killed four months ago after repeated test failures, Pentagon advocates of an airborne radar-jamming system produced by Westinghouse are expected to recommend Monday that new tests be conducted.

The Pentagon's new acquisitions chief, John M. Deutch, will be asked to authorize retesting of the Airborne Self Protection Jammer (ASPJ), a joint project of Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum and ITT Avionics of Nutley, N.J., Capitol Hill sources said.

The program was killed in December, when, after 16 years and the expenditure of $1.5 billion, it failed operational tests for the third time. Westinghouse laid off 460 Baltimore-area workers in February after the project was canceled.

Members of the Maryland congressional delegation, contending that the operational tests conducted last summer were flawed, have been pressing Defense Secretary Les Aspin to authorize retesting, saying that $7.8 million was available in the budget for the current fiscal year to finance it. But the office of the Navy general counsel concluded earlier this month that that money cannot be used for retesting.

Installed on combat aircraft, the radar jammer is a series of "black boxes" that sort out incoming radar signals and then jam or confuse the radar of the most threatening anti-aircraft weapons.

At one time, the Pentagon was expected to order up to 2,200 of the units, at a cost of $9 billion, for the Air Force and Navy. The Air Force dropped out of the program in 1989 because of test failures and has opted for another radar-jamming program.

With the departure of Bush administration officials who killed the ASPJ, its advocates in the Pentagon are making a fresh pitch to have the Clinton administration revive it.

Anthony R. Grieco, the deputy director of electronic combat systems in the Pentagon, is expected to conduct a closed-door Pentagon briefing Monday that recommends retesting of the program, according to a Capitol Hill source who has seen a written version of the presentation. Mr. Grieco declined yesterday to discuss what he will say.

Worried that a program they had worked for years to kill might be revived, Sens. David Pryor of Arkansas and William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware wrote to Mr. Aspin this week, saying: "The program management of the ASPJ has a chronic problem -- every time the system fails testing, the standards and requirements are lowered to a level that the jammer can meet and faulty hardware gets produced.

"Despite these attempts to make these tests less rigorous, the Navy's operational testing and evaluation command, to its credit, held firm to the standards and requirements before the tests began."

In early December, Robert C. Duncan, director of operational testing and evaluation for the Defense Department, said the tests had been "adequate to determine that ASPJ is not operationally effective and not operationally suitable."

Eleven days later, the Pentagon terminated the program.

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