White House agrees to new test for radar-jammer Westinghouse system may be tried on different plane

August 19, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The effort to revive a Westinghouse-built airborne radar jamming system killed by the Bush administration has received an important boost from the Clinton administration, which has agreed to test the jammer again on a different plane.

With nearly 100 of the radar-jamming units in hand, Pentagon officials have told members of Congress in recent weeks that they want to test several on the F-14D, an upgraded version of the Navy's Tomcat fighter, later this year. If the tests are successful, the jammers would be installed on all 55 of the F-14Ds.

In the balance are hundreds of jobs at Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum, which were eliminated when the program was killed late last year.

While installation of the jammer on the F-14D, which was designed to use the units, would not have substantial impact on employment at Westinghouse immediately, it would keep alive the hope that the Pentagon may eventually reverse the Bush administration's decision to kill the project.

Only units that have already been delivered would be used on the F-14D, but if they pass muster, full production of the system for use on other aircraft could follow.

Installed on combat aircraft, the system is a series of black boxes that sorts incoming radar signals and then jams -- or confuses -- the radar or threatening anti-aircraft weapons.

The radar jammer, a joint project of Westinghouse and ITT Avionics of Clifton, N.J., had been under development for 16 years, at a cost of $1.5 billion, when it underwent what were to be its final operational tests a year ago.

The Pentagon's chief of testing and evaluation later said the tests showed the jammer "is not operationally effective and not operationally suitable," prompting outgoing Defense Secretary Dick Cheney to cancel the program in his final weeks in office.

As a result, Westinghouse laid off 460 people in the Baltimore area and ITT laid off 300 employees in New Jersey.

Members of the Maryland congressional delegation, led by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, almost immediately began a campaign with the Clinton administration to revive the program, arguing that the scoring of the crucial operational tests was faulty.

Had the jammer passed its tests, the Pentagon would have selected a single contractor -- either Westinghouse or ITT -- for production. At one time, the Pentagon had planned to spend $9 billion on 2,200 of the systems for the Air Force and the Navy, but that number was reduced to 700 when the Air Force dropped out of the program four years ago.

Maryland Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-6th, who has tried to persuade high Pentagon officials to re-examine last year's tests, said yesterday that the Pentagon had informed him of its plans to put the radar jammer on the F-14D.

Moreover, he added, the Pentagon plans to re-evaluate last year's operational tests, which were conducted with the F-18, an aircraft that was also to have been equipped with the radar jammer.

At the same time, the House Armed Services Committee, prodded by Representative Bartlett, one of its members, has included in next year's defense authorization bill permission to use $7.8 million in research and development funds for the F-14D tests.

Several Capitol Hill aides said the deputy secretary of defense for acquisitions, John M. Deutch, told Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., perhaps the program's most severe congressional critic, of Pentagon plans early this month.

Requests to Navy and Defense Department public affairs officers yesterday for comment or confirmation went unanswered. Westinghouse would not comment, while an ITT spokesman would say only, "We have not received any official word, but we have heard that a decision has been made to proceed with testing" aboard the F-14D.

Mr. Pryor, who was in Arkansas, could not be reached for comment.

An aide to the senator said "nothing is official," and that Mr.

Deutch "told us they would like to go ahead -- not that they are going to go ahead." He said Senator Pryor "didn't agree and he didn't object," but that he did seek more information.

Mr. Pryor and Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Delaware Republican, have been sharply critical of Pentagon conduct, accusing officials of changing test criteria and standards to get the troubled system approved. They also criticized the decision to begin production of the system before its testing had been completed.

The meeting with Mr. Deutch represented "a whole new sense of co-operation" over a program that has seen the Arkansas Democrat at loggerheads with the Pentagon for more than three years, according to a Pryor aide.

He stressed that Mr. Deutch had made it clear that he has no plans to resume production of the radar jammer. Still, its use on Navy planes would keep alive the possibility of more production and give Westinghouse and ITT an important boost in efforts to sell the system abroad.

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