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B-2 Jamming Unit May Have Been Canceled

June 27, 1991|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Air Force has reportedly curtailed development of a controversial, multibillion-dollar electronic jamming system for the Northrop B-2 bomber, according to a former Northrop employee who cites a memorandum issued by the firm's legal counsel.

The memo was written by the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson in an effort to rebut allegations brought in a lawsuit against Northrop by former strategic analyst Richard Sylvester.

Sylvester alleged in his suit, filed under the federal False Claims Act, that the jamming system is riddled with defects and would cost $7.5 billion to maintain over the operational life of the B-2. Sylvester's attorneys assert that the memo shows the jammer, the ZSR-62, "has been put on hold after $1 billion has been spent."

The allegations were dismissed last March by federal Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer, who characterized them as vague. Earlier, the Justice Department declined to join Sylvester's case.

A Northrop spokesman said, "It is a classified system, and I cannot comment on it."

Investigators close to the case said the ZSR-62, if not already canceled, is "on its deathbed," having come under sharp congressional scrutiny.

Sylvester said he reviewed the Fried, Frank memo in a meeting with Justice Department attorneys late last year. He said the memo indicated that the Air Force had canceled development of an improved version of the ZSR-62 under what was dubbed a "cost-reduction initiative."

"We don't know if they are making a new version of the ZSR-62 under a different name," Sylvester said. "If they are not, then the B-2 will not be able to execute its mission."

The Justice Department meeting was held to consider the merits of Sylvester's allegations and to determine whether it wanted to intervene in the suit.

The department decided against intervening because the ZSR-62 was no longer part of the B-2 and thus the government believed that it was not damaged, according to Phillip Benson, an attorney with Herbert Hafif, who represents Sylvester.

Hafif has alleged that the Justice Department attempted to cheat several whistle-blowers and brought the ZSR-62 matter to the attention of congressional investigators in recent weeks.

The ZSR-62 is among sub-systems on the B-2 that remain highly classified. Extensive interviews this year with congressional sources and technical experts serving the White House have indicated that certain electronics systems on the plane, including the jamming system, represent major technical risks.

But Air Force officials have said that there are no "great problems" with the electronic systems on the B-2.

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