Perry could be queried on failed radar jammer

February 02, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary nominee William J. Perry's efforts to salvage a $2 billion radar-jamming system -- developed in part by the Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum -- could raise questions in his Senate confirmation hearings, which begin today.

Sixteen months ago, the Pentagon canceled the $2 billion radar-jamming system, developed over 16 years by Westinghouse and ITT Avionics of Clifton, N.J., after it failed crucial flight tests on Navy fighter jets it was designed to protect.

The move prompted Westinghouse to lay off 460 Baltimore-area workers and ITT to lay off 300 in New Jersey.

When the Defense Department shelved the program, it also prohibited the government from acting as a middleman to sell the device overseas, as is the government's customary practice with foreign arms deals.

But Mr. Perry, the deputy defense secretary chosen to succeed Les Aspin, has quietly offered South Korea and Finland the Pentagon's help in installing the jammers if they buy the electronic devices directly from the U.S. manufacturers.

The makers, Pentagon officials say, appear to have persuaded the two allies that the Pentagon's tests themselves were flawed.

Though there is nothing illegal about what Mr. Perry has done, he could be questioned about creating such an impression at his Senate confirmation hearings.

"It's very troubling," said Sen. David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who is the jammer's most vocal critic in Congress. "To consider us installing this system on all those planes puts our stamp of approval on them, and potentially exposes us to some liability."

Mr. Perry visited South Korea and Finland last year and told them that it was against U.S. policy to make the sale, but the defense ministers of both countries persisted. South Korea has agreed to buy 120 F-16s from the Lockheed Corp. and Finland 64 F-18s from the McDonnell Douglas Corp. Both deals ensured thousands of jobs in Texas and Missouri.

In response to written questions, Mr. Perry said in a statement yesterday that rather than jeopardize the sale of the fighter jets, he offered the Pentagon's help in installing the jammers if the countries bought the devices from the manufacturers.

The companies made 95 of the jamming devices, called the Airborne Self-Protection Jammer, before the program was canceled. The foreign sales could be a huge boost for Westinghouse's Linthicum plant, but a company spokeswoman last month said it was "really too early to tell what the impact would be on the Baltimore operations."

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