The Air Force has eliminated Litton Industries from a competition to build the guidance system for the Midgetman small intercontinental ballistic missile, one of the largest missile guidance programs in history, with a potential value of up to $3 billion, it was learned Friday.
The decision leaves General Electric and two other guidance system producers, Rockwell International and Northrop, in competition for the massive program. Air Force officials at the Ballistic Missile Office confirmed the action Friday.
The small ICBM program calls for deployment of 500 nuclear-armed missiles in mobile launchers, each with its own guidance system. In addition, another 120 guidance systems would be required for testing and spare parts.
The Air Force was considering several guidance systems for the Midgetman program. It selected the MX missile guidance system as a so-called "baseline" for the smaller missile but also was considering two other systems, one proposed by General Electric and the other by Litton.
The selection of GE will pit its navigation device against the one already being produced for the MX missile at Northrop and Rockwell International. A decision is expected in January.
Although the Air Force has never disclosed a cost for the Midgetman guidance device, the MX system costs about $5 million for each missile. The cost for 620 units at that price would be $3 billion.
The system proposed by GE is a derivation of the device it built for the Navy's Trident C-4 missile. A Navy spokesman said earlier this week that the C-4 guidance device, which is now out of production, cost $2.6 million in 1985 dollars.
A Litton spokesman said Friday that the company had received $85 million in development funding since 1984.
The spokesman could not say how many Litton employees have been working on the program, but as many as a couple hundred workers may have been involved.
Litton had proposed using a new technology called a ring laser gyroscope on the Midgetman. Earlier this week, Litton Executive Vice President Joseph Caligiuri said the system could be produced for $1.5 million each and that it would have an accuracy that would rival the MX system. Litton is the world's leading producer of inertial navigation and guidance systems, Caligiuri said.
General Electric's Trident system uses a combination of mechanical gyroscopes and a stellar tracking system that fixes its position in mid-flight by sighting known stars. GE and its competitor in the Trident guidance system program, Singer's Kearfott division, have built 763 of the guidance devices for the Navy.