S. Korea may buy radar jamming gear from Westinghouse

January 15, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a move seen as a potential shot in the arm for Westinghouse, the Department of Defense has cleared the way for the sale of the firm's problem-plagued airborne radar jammer system to South Korea.

The South Korean government is buying 120 F-16 Falcon fighters manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, and the purchase of the radar jammers for the planes could be a big boost for the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group plant in Linthicum. A company spokeswoman could not say whether South Korea has actually placed an order for the jammers.

"It is really too early to tell what the impact would be on the Baltimore operations," said Ann E. Grizzel, a spokeswoman for the firm, which earlier this week announced plans to cut 6,000 jobs nationwide as part of a restructuring.

Westinghouse and ITT Avionics of Clifton, N.J., spent 16 years jointly developing the radar jammer, designed to protect fighter planes from enemy radar and radar-guided weapons systems, at a cost of $1.5 billion. In 1992, the jammer underwent its final operational tests, which were to be the prelude to Defense Department selection of one of the firms to produce upward of 600 additional systems at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, the system did not perform satisfactorily in those tests and the Bush Administration, in its final weeks in office, killed the program, prompting Westinghouse to lay off 460 Baltimore-area workers and ITT to lay off 300 in New Jersey.

Members of the Maryland congressional delegation, led by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, almost immediately began a campaign to persuade the new Clinton administration to reverse that decision, arguing that the scoring of the crucial final tests was faulty and that it was foolish to abandon the program and start over.

Ms. Mikulski yesterday hailed the Defense Department's latest action as "great news . . . for Westinghouse and the men and women who work there."

"Once the sale of [the jammer] begins, it will defend American jobs and defend an American ally," she said in a prepared statement.

The latest Defense Department move, announced in a letter from Deputy Secretary William Perry to the South Korean defense minister, appears to be a retreat from an earlier Pentagon decision making it very difficult, if not impossible, for Westinghouse and ITT to sell the jammer abroad.

Last summer, John Deutch, the Pentagon acquisitions chief, told Sen. David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, and Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Delaware Republican, that he would not allow the radar jammer's inclusion in the U.S. foreign military sales program, which includes the F-16 sale to Korea. The two senators are strong critics of the jammer who applauded the Bush administration's decision to kill it and have resisted efforts to revive the program.

Brandon Belote, an ITT spokesman in Washington, said any foreign sales of the radar jammer would be a joint project between his firm and Westinghouse. He said the State Department last spring gave the two firms permission to try to sell the jammers to seven nations.

In addition to the possibility of equipping 120 South Korean planes, Finland is buying 64 F-18s and a Finnish Air Force officer said last year that it might purchase the radar jammer, despite U.S. cancellation of the program.

The apparent boost for foreign sales came as the Navy, still looking for a radar jamming system for its planes, asked defense contractors late last month to submit initial proposals on substitutes for the Westinghouse-ITT system. Spokesmen for Westinghouse and ITT indicated that they would submit proposals.

One Capitol Hill aide, an advocate of the Westinghouse system, said this search will "help make the case" for the Westinghouse system because the Pentagon could end up, after this new review, concluding that this is the best system available.

Meantime, proponents of the system are hoping it will be installed on the F-14D, a version of the Navy's Tomcat fighter, a plane that is configured for use of that system and that has no alternative readily available. Mr. Deutch agreed last summer to test the jammer on the F-14D and said it would be installed on the 55 planes if tests were successful.

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