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Proposed Pentagon Cuts Deflate New Missile Pacts

February 20, 1988|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

The Air Force selected Rockwell International and Northrop on Friday as suppliers for up to $3.6 billion worth of nuclear missile guidance equipment. But there's a hitch--the program was all but struck dead Thursday when the Pentagon released its fiscal 1989 budget.

It was one of the strange quirks of the 1989 federal defense budget, which has yet to be approved by Congress. Meanwhile, the Pentagon weapons bureaucracy is grinding on, making daily decisions.

On Friday, the Air Force's Ballistic Missile Office in San Bernardino said it had selected the Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere, or AIRS, as the guidance system for the Midgetman missile. The AIRS system, which is used on the MX missile, is produced by Northrop and Rockwell International.

The guidance system, also known as an inertial measurement unit, or IMU, became the focus of national attention last year when manufacturing problems and other operating irregularities at Northrop were disclosed in a series of congressional hearings.

The decision announced Friday eliminated a competing guidance system produced by General Electric, based on a design for the Navy's Trident missile.

The Air Force had been planning to buy up to 500 Midgetmen missiles, requiring more than 600 guidance systems, including spares and test units. The cost has not yet been determined for the new guidance units, but the AIRS systems for the MX missile cost $6 million each. However, Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci announced Thursday that he was slashing funds for the Midgetman to $200 million in fiscal 1989, down from the $2.2 billion requested in fiscal 1988. Instead of entering production, the program now will be kept barely alive until the next Administration comes into office.

"If we could have picked another day to announce this, we would have, but certain legal commitments forced us to do it today," an Air Force spokesman noted.

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