Air Force awards AAI a contract Cockeysville firm will develop test for planes' equipment

Award worth $11.8 million

Jets' electronic warfare systems will be monitored

April 15, 1996|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

AAI Corp. brought home what the company officials called "a must-win contract" last week when the Cockeysville company was selected by the Air Force to develop and manufacture a system to test the electronic warfare equipment on the F-15 and F-18 fighter planes.

"Oh man, how sweet that was," said Richard R. Erkeneff, AAI's president.

He said the $11.8 million award could lead to $150 million in new business over more than a decade and continues the company's involvement in the electronic warfare testing industry.

The contract calls for the development of equipment called the Joint Service Electronic Combat Systems Tester.

This is a portable, suitcase-sized electronic box that can be plugged into a fighter plane to make certain that the craft's electronic warfare equipment is operating properly.

Fighter planes are equipped with a variety of electronic warfare equipment, including radar jammers and a system to confuse anti-aircraft missiles.

AAI competed against some of the nation's biggest defense contractors for the award, including Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., AlliedSignal Inc. and Loral Corp.

Mr. Erkeneff said the victory is an indication that AAI can still compete in certain niches of the market.

"This was very key to our business base," Mr. Erkeneff said. "At a minimum, this is a $50 million program, when you consider the options. But that is only for two airplanes. There are other combat planes that can use this system, the F-22, the V-22, the F-16.

"If you look at foreign sales, I see this as a $100 million to $150 million program going out into the next 15 years."

The initial contract calls for the production of only a half-dozen units, but Mr. Erkeneff said he expects orders for between 200 and 300 units in the future, not counting any foreign sales.

The company plans to hire about a half-dozen engineers to participate in the development phase of the work.

"We'll be hiring young engineers," said Mr. Erkeneff, "people only one or two years out of college."

If AAI had lost the contact, he said, the company would have been forced to lay off 18 to 20 workers.

A loss would very likely have eliminated the company's involvement in the electronic warfare testing business. Mr. Erkeneff said he knew of no other programs coming in the near future, and the company would not likely have made the necessary investment to stay in the business.

Electronic warfare testing equipment once accounted for about 20 percent of AAI sales. The new contract is expected to bring it back to that level.

A custom at AAI is for workers involved in a program to ring a handbell with the announcement of a new contract.

"Our team did good," said Mr. Erkeneff. "They were a happy bunch of guys when they called me in New York and told me of the win. I could hear the bells ringing.

"I would like to have one of these a week."

Pub Date: 4/15/96

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