Finland's jammer order boosts Westinghouse jobs

September 10, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Westinghouse Electric Corp. has signed a tentative agreement to sell 47 radar jamming systems to Finland, providing a much-welcome boost to the company's Linthicum operations and work for 200 workers for the next five years.

The contract, whose final terms are expected to be completed later this month, could be worth an estimated $100 million.

Although Westinghouse refused to say how much the proposed contract would be worth, because terms have not been completed, previous estimates have placed the cost of the jammers at between $2 million and $3 million each.

If the final contract is signed, work would begin immediately, the company said.

"The activity from this work represent jobs and investment," said Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in a statement.

"We cannot afford to lose ground by losing battles such as this."

The agreement, however, has renewed a debate over the Westinghouse jamming system -- the same system that had previously been rejected by the Pentagon for performance deficiencies.

The jammers, known as Airborne Self-Protection Jammers (ASPJ), have had a checkered history.

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney killed the program in December 1992 after Pentagon tests concluded the system was ineffective. The U.S. government had spent more than $1 billion on the program since 1981.

The jammers' main problem, according to a congressional staff member familiar with the issue, was its diagnostic equipment, which would not accurately tell whether the system was working or not.

"It's like driving a car with a broken fuel gauge," said the staffer, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

But foreign customers have remained interested in the jamming devices, which were designed for jet fighters. Westinghouse, which has a total statewide work force of 9,500, has been negotiating with Finland, Switzerland and South Korea for the sale of 200 of the devices for about $400 million.

Those sales were thrown into jeopardy a few months ago when Sen. David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, and Sen. William V. Roth Jr., a Delaware Republican, sponsored an amendment that would have prohibited their foreign sale.

But Maryland Senators Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski strenuously opposed the measure, which was defeated 68 to 14 July 1.

"The contractors have successfully marketed a turkey to our allies," Senator Pryor said yesterday in a statement. "This sale is nothing more than an irresponsible jobs program," he said.

But Senator Sarbanes has defended the radar jammers as "state-of-the-art" equipment that was not properly tested by the Defense Department. But despite the tests, the foreign customers were still interested in the systems.

"They want to buy it, they regard it as the best system in the world," Senator Sarbanes said on the floor of the Senate on July 1. "They see the system meeting their needs. If the sale is blocked, it is going to European competitors," he said.

Col. Pertti J. Suominen, the military attache in the Finnish embassy, said his government was aware of the jammers' problems.

But, he said, its air force operates in a limited area and not under the difficult conditions faced by the U.S. military.

"It meets our requirements very well," Colonel Suominen said. "The requirement for your Navy are much higher than our needs."

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