WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said today that he is scuttling production of the Sgt. York air-defense gun on which the Army has sunk $1.8 billion because it doesn't work much better than the weapons the service has now.
"The system didn't work well enough. That's the simple fact," Weinberger said at a Pentagon press conference.
The decision will stop in mid-stream the production of the Sgt. York, a twin-cannon gun unit mounted on a tank chassis. Before Weinberger's decision, the Army had planned to spend another $3 billion on the weapon, which is known formally as the Division Air Defense gun, or Divad. The weapon was dubbed the Sgt. York in memory of the World War I hero, Alvin York.
Developed in California
The weapon had been under development for more than seven years. Ford Aerospace & Communications Corp., after winning a competition against General Dynamics Corp., received a contract in 1981 to supply up to 618 Divad units. The company, which assembles the Sgt. York at a plant in Newport Beach, Calif., had delivered 65. Weinberger said he had ordered the Army not to accept any more of the guns.
About 2,000 people are employed in Ford Aerospace's Divad division. The company did not respond immediately to questions about layoffs.
Ford Aerospace said today that the Sgt. York had met the "contractual specification requirements established by the Army." The firm also suggested that it might offer a replacement itself.
Flawed From Start?
Weinberger suggested the weapon may have been flawed from the start because its cannons simply didn't have the range to strike Soviet helicopters carrying modern missiles.
"The independent operational tests demonstrated that the system's performance does not effectively meet the growing (Soviet) military threat," Weinberger said.
"The tests demonstrated also that while there are marginal improvements that can be made to the Divad, these are not significant compared to the capability of current air defense weapons and therefore, not worth the additional cost," Weinberger said. "So we will not invest any more funds in this system."
The cancellation of a weapon program, particularly after production has begun, is extremely rare. Although former President Jimmy Carter killed the B-1 bomber program--a decision that was later reversed by President Reagan--he did so before the B-1 had entered production.
Many Officers Surprised
Although the Sgt. York has been plagued with development problems almost from its inception, Weinberger's decision to cancel the program outright caught many Army leaders by surprise.
They had argued privately that the weapon was worth preserving because additional improvements could be made on the production line, and that the Army needed a radar-directed gun that could operate at night and in bad weather.
Weinberger said he was "going against the advice of a lot of very trusted and able people" in killing the program.
Sen. Dan Quayle (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, applauded Weinberger's decision and said the action will probably boost the defense secretary's standing in Congress.
"There are certain political benefits," Quayle said. "Weinberger's critics say he's never met a weapons system he didn't like, but now he's shown that given the right circumstances, he's not against canceling a program."