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Northrop Managers Behind MX Foul-Ups, Trio Testifies

June 13, 1987|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Northrop employees building the MX missile guidance system, on orders from their managers, threw government property into a garbage dumpster, altered time cards and improperly tested important components, three current and former Northrop engineers told a congressional committee Friday.

The three individuals, under questioning by members of the House Armed Services Committee, also expressed serious doubts about the reliability and engineering documentation of the MX's inertial measurement unit (IMU), a 10 1/2-inch ball packed with 19,000 high-technology parts, and of MX test equipment.

Northrop was cited in government audits for having excess inventory at its plant, allegedly because it was ordering duplicate parts through six fictitious businesses that it set up, using $2 million of "petty cash," according to earlier Air Force testimony in the matter.

David Peterson, a former manager at Northrop's electronics division in Hawthorne, testified Friday that in the fall of 1986, Northrop Vice President J. M. Brust told him to "take all of this s--- and throw it out," referring to the excess inventory.

"I don't believe it was ever written down," Peterson said, referring to the order to discard the parts. "It was not uncommon for this to happen because hardware had been thrown out for the last several years. It was an attitude that has been with the company. After a while, you don't know what is right and what is wrong."

Separately, Air Force investigators have subpoenaed 80 box loads of missile parts that were reportedly put into the garbage dumpster and then removed by Peterson to substantiate his allegations, according to Peterson's attorneys, Robert Kilborne and Herbert Hafif. Peterson has been ordered to produce the parts in federal court in Los Angeles next Thursday.

Some of the allegations, including those about discarded parts, are still under examination, a Northrop spokesman said. But other allegations have been disproved and some problems at the company have been fixed, he added.

The spokesman sharply disputed the allegations about the reliability of the missile guidance system, saying, "When these fellows allege the unreliability of the missile, I can't understand how anybody could believe they know what they are talking about. The thing has been flight-tested and proven 17 times out of 17."

Several members of the committee, however, expressed outrage about reports of Northrop's problems on the MX program. The firm is the subject of seven investigations by the Air Force and has had $72.6 million in contract payments withheld for delinquent deliveries of IMUs.

Rep. Samuel S. Stratton (D-N.Y.) said Friday that he could not understand why a major American corporation "should be operating like a Mickey Mouse organization."

Brian Hyatt, a former Northrop engineer, told Stratton that "it is a question of management run amok. The company was more interested in delivering IMUs to the Air Force than it was to the Soviet Union."

Jeff Kroll, a current unit manager at Northrop's electronics division, said he was hired in 1985 to set up one fictitious business to buy parts outside the normal purchasing department.

Under questioning by the committee, Kroll said the parts purchased by the operation, known as Liaison Engineering Services, went into both ground test equipment and flight hardware. Northrop officials have said none of those parts went into IMUs.

Kroll said he has received threats from Northrop managers and employees in connection with his plan to testify.

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