Fighting for a Westinghouse contract

June 24, 1993

The Maryland delegation in Congress, a mixture of doves and hawks, are birds of a feather when it comes to defending defense contracts over importance to the Maryland economy. This is when a Paul Sarbanes and a Roscoe Bartlett, a Ben Cardin and a Wayne Gilchrest, find common cause.

What unites them at this juncture is an effort to resurrect a $9 billion project under which Westinghouse was to build a radar-jamming system to protect Navy carrier aircraft at its huge installation in Linthicum. Some 460 jobs are at stake.

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled the so-called Airborne Self-Protection Jammers (ASPJs) in the latter days of the Bush administration. The question now is whether his successor, Les Aspin, with President Clinton's approval, is going to reverse the Cheney directive.

Whether Navy aircraft should be equipped with these devices, which are designed to confuse enemy anti-aircraft weaponry, is a matter of intense debate between lawmakers and within the Pentagon itself.

Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., opposed the ASPJ program long before his fellow Arkansan, Bill Clinton, made it to the White House. He has accused the Navy of "cheating" by lowering standards after the ASPJ repeatedly failed to meet tests. But Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., has challenged the testing methodology and has pushed, with apparent success, for a review lest the $1.5 billion already spent is wasted.

What this dispute reflects is a nationwide cry of pain as the downsizing of the defense establishment leads to the closing of military bases and the cancellation of military contracts. The pinch started to hurt late in the Bush administration. It is growing worse as a result of President Clinton's $12 billion defense cut in the current fiscal year -- this, despite a decision to tread water before canceling major weapons systems. But next year is amputation time. Birds of various feathers will be fluttering in agony on Capitol Hill.

This prospect makes it all the harder for the Maryland delegation to resurrect a project that has already been canceled.

Harder, but not impossible.

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has instilled new life in the Seawolf submarine program. House Armed Services committee chairman Ron Dellums, a vociferous Pentagon critic, is trying to save bases in his California district. And the dedication of the peacenik Long Island delegation to the hometown F-14 is legendary.

This is what representative democracy is all about. Partisanship stops when down-home jobs and investment are in peril.

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