The editorial "Missile in Trouble" (July 22) paints a pessimistic picture of the advanced medium-range air-to-air missle, or AMRAAM, concluding that "No one can have much confidence in the weapon so far."
I disagree. The AMRAAM program is technically sound, progressing, and the weapon will be ready for low-rate production in the near future.
The Air Force recognized and documented the need for an improved medium-range missile in the mid-'70s. Our extensive analyses of the numerically superior Soviet fighter force armed with similar weapons revealed that we come out second best. Their capabilities are improving to where the initial engagement will likely result in unacceptable losses to our aircraft and pilots.
Enter AMRAAM. With its active radar, longer range and greater speed, AMRAAM will allow us to launch and leave before entering the enemy's lethal zone. In short, despite the Soviet's improved capability and greater numbers, AMRAAM will enhance our survivability and maintain our essential air superiority.
I need to clarify a point about pro will not produce AMRAAM for our operational forces until it has clearly demonstrated through testing that it can do the job. The current schedule does not call for a limited-production decision until the spring of 1987. What we are looking for in 1986 is to proceed with our test program, which has already had two successful launches, and to accelerate competition between Hughes and Raytheon. We propose to buy 95 percent of the missiles through competition, which is unparalleled in major weapon systems acquisitions.
Since its inception, AMRAAM has received top- level management attention focusing not only on performance and schedule, but also on cost. AMRAAM's total program cost estimate will have changed less than 5 percent from when it was originally baselined with Congress in December
Although technical problems have cropped up, they come as no surprise in a development program. The principal technical challenge -- packaging highly complex electronics in a relatively small missile -- has been met, and AMRAAM is now in the early stage of a well-structured flight test program. In light of the continuous numerical advantage of the Soviet forces, U.S. forces must rely on technological superiority. To do that, we must develop advanced capabilities that cannot be accomplished without some risk and technical problem- solving.
To kill the program now, in the face of the ever- widening U.S.-Soviet capability gap, would be foolish. To slow it down would only add to the cost. In my judgment, AMRAAM is the right missile for the right mission. And we'll deliver.