Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger is pressing ahead with the $5.2 billion AMRAAM missile program before the jet combat weapon has been adequately tested, Rep. Denny Smith (R-Ore.) charged yesterday.
Smith, cochairman of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus, released documents from the General Accounting Office and Pentagon testing office that he said showed the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile is seriously flawed, needs additional testing and stands little chance of staying within cost projections.
John Krings, director of the Defense Department's office of operational test and evaluation, said last night the department has no intention of putting the missile into production until it is thoroughly flight-tested and proved reliable.
He acknowledged that some AMRAAM money is going for production facilities and final missile components, but said this was the best way to ensure test missiles are representative of the ones that would come off the production line later if AMRAAM passes muster.
Weinberger told Congress Feb. 28 that he had made "a thorough review of the AMRAAM program" and had concluded its progress warranted release of $54.4 million Congress held back last year pending his certification that the Air Force would be able to buy 17,000 AMRAAMs for no more than $5.2 billion in fiscal 1984 dollars. In making his certification, Weinberger said the missile would perform to design specifications.
Krings said he supported Weinberger's certification letter even though a memo he sent to Weinberger on Dec. 17 said the "test information gathering rate suggests very limited useful data will be available for March certification."
The GAO said it lacked confidence in the Pentagon's cost estimate for AMRAAM and could not attest to the missile's performance because too few tests have been conducted.
Krings said five tests have been conducted and that 85 more would be conducted before AMRAAM was put into production.
AMRAAM is designed to be a radar-guided "fire and forget" missile, meaning pilots do not have to guide it to enemy airplanes.
The Air Force F16 fighter has been wired for AMRAAM but currently carries the shorter range Sidewinder heat-seeking missile.
While the Sparrow air-to-air missile is also radar guided, pilots have to guide it after launch, increasing their vulnerability to enemy fire, according to AMRAAM backers.
Smith said yesterday that he has asked the House Armed Services Committee, with the help of the GAO, to explore Weinberger's basis for certifying AMRAAM's future cost and performance. The congressman, a former Air Force fighter pilot in Vietnam, said the United States already possesses highly lethal air-to-air missiles and could safely cancel the AMRAAM program.