SYKESVILLE -- The Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant here made a bit of military history yesterday when it rolled out a low-cost torpedo defense system made from off-the-shelf components.

The system, which looks something like two gray filing cabinets with color computer screens, was one of the first pieces of military equipment designed, developed and produced under terms of a Pentagon directive last year for contractors to bypass more stringent and more expensive military specifications procedures when producing certain equipment.

Under the old procedure, "the equivalent systems would have been over $1 million," said Chris L. Alberg, the program manager at Westinghouse. "This one will be under $300,000," he added, as he pointed out computer parts in the cabinet made by Digital Equipment Corp. and other computer companies.

The system, technically called a Multi-Sensor Torpedo Recognition and Alertment Processor (MSTRAP), warns the crew Navy ships of a torpedo attack. Westinghouse officials call it "Mousetrap," and there were signs in the factory about "building a better mousetrap."

The equipment processes information from various sensors to detect an incoming torpedo, identify the type and warn crew members by sounding an alarm and flashing a warning on the screen.

"There will be instructions printed on the screen for the crew to take evasive action," Mr. Alberg said. "It will say, 'Turn this way or turn that way.' " It may also advise the crew to launch an acoustic device into the water that will simulate the ship in hopes of confusing the torpedo and directing it to the wrong target.

Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group is building the system, which includes the acoustic device, in conjunction with Loral Corp. of New York. The Sykesville plant is the prime contractor, and between 70 percent and 80 percent of the work, including final assembly, will be done at the Carroll County facility.

Walter Dunkle, general manager of the Electronic Systems Group's Oceanic Division, said about 20 people are involved in the program, which could mean up to $200 million in new business for the plant.

The system is being jointly financed by the Navy and Great Britain, which will use it on its own ships.

During a plant ceremony yesterday morning marking the rollout, Mr. Dunkle said that it is ironic that Westinghouse, which has built more torpedoes since World War II than all other companies combined -- many of them at a plant on Washington Boulevard near Halethorpe -- "has now come up with a system to protect ships from torpedoes."

Rep. Duncan L. Hunter, the California Republican who has promoted defense acquisition reform, attended the rollout. He said the torpedo defense system represents a model for Pentagon acquisition.

In addition to saving money, the congressman said, the off-the-shelf approach will allow for new technology to make its way into the field faster.

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