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Failure Rate of Key MX Missile Component is Challenged

August 17, 1987

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A key part of the MX missile guidance system has experienced a 58 percent failure rate during the last 10 months, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

Those failures were cited by unidentified congressional investigators who obtained MX failure reports and provided the newspaper with them. The Air Force says the system is exceeding its reliability requirements.

The guidance device, built by the Los Angeles-based based aerospace company Northrop, has experienced 28 failures in the 48 systems delivered since October, according to staff members of an investigations subcommittee for the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Air Force, however, says the system, called an ″inertial measurement unit,″ is twice as good as had been predicted for this point in the program.

Northrop has come under heavy scrutiny in the MX program, and the matter is the subject of investigations by a congressional committee and a Los Angeles County grand jury.

A company spokesman said Sunday that the Air Force is withholding $108 million in contract payments to Northrop because of late deliveries of IMUs. Northrop has been four months behind schedule in deliveries, leaving about one-third of the 21 MX missiles in silos without guidance systems as of the end of June.

But Air Force officials have defended the reliability of the IMUs.

Air Force Gen. Lawrence Skantze, in a letter to the Times last month, said there had been nine IMU failures that could be attributed to the Northrop electronics division in Hawthorne, the prime contracter of the IMU. Skantze has since retired.

An Air Force spokesman said Sunday he could not explain the discrepancy in the figures.

Northrop said there have been 22 IMU failures through Aug. 7, a longer time period than considered by congressional investigators, resulting in a failure rate 18 percent better than expected by the Air Force.

But the documents obtained by the House committee show there have been 28 failures since the MX missiles were made operational last October, a member of the committee staff said.

The staff member alleged that the way the Air Force tallies the reliability of the IMU leaves loopholes for the sytem to fail without hurting the results.

The documents include a date, a serial number and a description and analysis of each failure, dating to the beginning of the program. The incidents included failed pumps and electronic problems, among other things.

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