The Air Force is considering suspending some monthly payments to General Electric Co. after discovering quality-assurance problems and other shortcomings at the Ohio plant that makes B1B bomber and F16 fighter jet engines, Air Force officials said yesterday.
The problems are similar to, but perhaps less serious than, those found by Navy and Air Force investigators at Hughes Aircraft Co. in Arizona last summer.
The Air Force began a nationwide survey of defense contractors after Hughes, and the first plant visited -- GE's engine factory at Evendale, Ohio -- had "significant deficiencies," an Air Force official said. The Air Force found problems in the purchasing system and worker-safety program as well as in quality assurance, according to an Air Force statement.
In addition, investigators found "work measurement deficiencies," which could mean that GE is improperly charging the Air Force, officials said.
Air Force and GE officials said no problems have surfaced in the operation of the jet engines. But GE has shipped only a few for the new B1B bomber and has not delivered any F16 engines, which until now have been produced by a competitor, Pratt & Whitney.
Quality and efficiency in military manufacturing have increasingly become issues as defense spending has increased in recent years. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said in a speech prepared for delivery last night that "the preponderance of defense business stands up well to scrutiny," but he added that military contractors should improve their productivity and quality.
GE submitted a "get-well plan" to the Air Force last Wednesday and officials are reviewing it, an Air Force spokesman said yesterday. The spokesman would not say when the Air Force will decide whether to suspend payments or how much might be suspended, but he said even the consideration of such a move reflects the severity of the problem.
GE's aircraft engine division recorded $3.495 billion in sales in 1983, about 60 percent of it to the military, a GE spokesman said yesterday. The company makes engines and engine parts in Evendale and in Lynn, Mass.
"We are treating the Air Force audit very seriously, and there are a number of steps that we are taking," the GE spokesman said. Those steps "run the gamut from reassignment of organization responsibilities to efforts with individual employes about following specific housekeeping procedures," according to Harry C. Stonecipher, a GE vice president in Evendale.
GE recently won a hard-fought competition with Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies Corp., to produce the lion's share of future fighter engines, which had been a Pratt & Whitney monopoly. At Evendale, GE also makes spare parts for F4 fighter engines and C5A cargo-plane engines.
The Hughes audit turned up serious problems of workmanship in several types of missiles, Pentagon officials said. Progress payments to Hughes have been suspended while the company fashions a "get-well plan."
Air Force officials said that workmanship defects found at Hughes and GE did not keep any products from working, but that they could affect endurance.