A major contract being worked at the Westinghouse division in Linthicum is on the verge of being canceled by government budget planners, according to congressional and military officials.
Some say the multi-billion dollar radar jamming system -- known as the Airborne Self-Protection Jammer (ASPJ) -- is already dead, a victim of continuing operational problems with the black box system.
The threat of cancellation of the ASPJ program has ignited renewed speculation about possible layoffs at the local Westinghouse unit.
At one time, the system was expected to be placed on 800 Navy and Air Force planes, at a cost of up to $9 billion. The Air Force, however, dropped out of the program in 1989.
Perhaps the most damaging blow to ASPJ -- used in fighter planes to protect them from radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles -- came last week when the Senate approved an amendment by Sens. David Pryor, D-Ark., and William Roth, R-Del., to eliminate the $57 million requested by the Navy for production in fiscal year 1993.
The Senate also killed another $200 million in 1992 funding that had been put on hold until the airborne jammer passed an operational test.
"We were recently informed that the ASPJ failed operational testing," the two senators said in a letter to Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney encouraging him to end the program.
According to the two lawmakers, the Navy's recent testing of the system determined that it was not "operationally suitable" to protect pilots and their planes.
When he introduced his amendment to Congress, Senator Pryor said tests showed that the ASPJ system was not significantly better than current radar jammers.
"After 16 years, $1.5 billion, the Navy has made no progress in upgrading their radar jammers. They wasted their time and they wasted taxpayers' money defending this failed system," he said.
"It looks like ASPJ is dead," concluded one congressional staff member.
Westinghouse, however, reiterated its view late Tuesday that the Navy continues to support the program.
"We understand there have been some anomalies in the test program that have caused some results to be inconclusive and incomplete," the Westinghouse said in a statement.
"We're not at liberty to discuss the details. But we believe these anomalies can be rectified, though it may require additional testing."
But the bleak outlook for the ASPJ program, along with Westinghouse's recent loss of another multibillion military contract to produce the radar for an anti-missile system, has stirred a new round of speculation about another round of layoffs at the company's Electronic Systems Group, perhaps as early as the middle of the month.
Jack Martin, a spokesman for Westinghouse, said he has heard rumors but that no layoffs were planned at this time.
But Gary Eder, president of the Salaried Employees Union, said talk of layoffs had been circulating and he speculated that an announcement could come by the middle of the month.
He noted that last year, the company timed the 60-day required notification of a layoff to coincide with the planned year-end holiday shutdown of its operations.
Westinghouse has said in the past that the ASPJ program would not create many new jobs but that the contract would go a long way toward avoiding layoffs in the future. The company laid off about 2,500 workers last year.
About half of the job cuts were linked to the Defense Department cancellation of the A-12 attack plant for which the company was a major supplier. The rest were tied to a corporate cost-cutting move that eliminated about 4,000 jobs worldwide.
Brandon Belote, a spokesman for ITT Defense & Electronics Inc. in Arlington, Va., said he did not want to characterize the fate of the program until the Navy has time to review the test results and releases its final report in late October or early November.
Lt. Tom Leunnen, a spokesman for the Navy, said he did not expect the Navy to take any action until it gets the final results from the operational report on the system as well as the defense authorization bill.