Md. delegates urge Pentagon to keep retrofit program

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- With scores of Maryland defense jobs hanging in the balance, members of the state's congressional delegation are urging the Pentagon to reverse its decision and agree to retrofit the Navy's F-14 fighter, which is built in Glenarm and Salisbury.

Four members of the delegation, along with New York lawmakers, have written to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and asked that money be set aside to continue the retrofit program. "We see no reason for the . . . funds to be withheld or this program ended," wrote the 17 lawmakers.


Grumman Corp., the New York-based defense company that builds the fighter, has said it would lay off as many as 4,100 employees in the coming weeks unless Congress can reinstate the money.

As many as 20 percent of the 700 workers at the two Maryland plants could lose their jobs in the move, Larry Hamilton, Grumman's director of public affairs, said yesterday.


Last week, the Navy terminated the contract for the F-14 retrofit program, which upgrades the electronics in the plane.

The Pentagon is considering replacing the F-14 with modern versions of the F-18 until a new attack plane can be developed.

The lawmakers did not mention job losses to their constituents in the letter but instead raised questions of congressional authority, national security and government waste. Since $988 million was approved by Congress and President Bush for the program this year, they said the Navy's action amounted to an "administrative act, with no opportunity for Congress to review the decision."

Lawmakers added that canceling the program was "ill-advised from a national defense point of view," since the F-14 could be part of any future naval aviation package.

At the same time, with 18 planes in various stages of remanufacturing, terminating the contract could "waste" $100 million and eventually eliminate Grumman from the aircraft business.

"The termination of the F-14 program will not only mean massive layoffs around the country but will severely limit Grumman's capacity to bid for future fighter contracts," said a statement from Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, who signed the letter with Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd and Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski.

Ms. Mikulski has written to Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the Appropriation's Defense Subcommittee, asking that he help reverse the Pentagon's action on the upcoming supplemental spending bill.