Md. plant's aircraft identification system dropped by U.S. in '91

April 15, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

Until three years ago, a Baltimore County defense plant was developing an upgraded aircraft identification system designed to improve safeguards against the type of accident in which two U.S. helicopters were downed by American fighter planes yesterday.

But the contract for the development of the so-called Mark XV identification system for distinguishing "friend from foe" was canceled by the Air Force.

The improved system would not have been installed by now, but Rep. Helen Delich Bentley said yesterday that she believes the Air Force made a "big mistake."

She said the technology that was being developed at the former Bendix plant on Joppa Road in Towson would prevent tragedies such as yesterday's "friendly fire" accident.

Mark XV was designed to replace the current system, which dates to the Korean War, Mrs. Bentley said. It was designed to be used by all NATO planes.

"It's a shame that the technology is there and it's not being utilized," she said.

"The technology is out there, and the Air Force shut it down," she added. "I told them they were making a mistake when they killed the program in 1991."

The Mark XV would have used a transmitter to send out a signal to an aircraft's transponder. If the plane is equipped with the proper electronic equipment and is friendly, it automatically would transmitthe necessary coded information to identify itself.

The upgraded system, whose installation in military aircraft would have begun next year if production had proceeded as originally planned, fell victim to the Pentagon's budget cuts.

In 1991, the Air Force was faced with having to slash up to $9 billion from its electronic-warfare budget over the next five years.

As originally proposed the upgraded aircraft identification system would have cost $4.5 billion. That was later reduced to $3.9 billion, and then cut further to about $2 billion.

The Towson plant is a part of Morristown, N.J.-based AlliedSignal Inc. Its name was changed to Government Electronic Systems earlier this year. John V. Alexander, a spokesman for AlliedSignal, said the company did not have enough information on yesterday's tragedy "for us to offer a judgment as to whether or not the Mark XV could have prevented it."

Mrs. Bentley, who is running as a Republican candidate for governor this year, said she will press the Pentagon and the appropriate congressional committees to restore the MarkXV.

"Our soldiers deserve the best equipment we can give them," she said.

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