Cheney Memo Clouds A-12's Future

IN a highly critical memo Defense Secretary Richard Cheney has put the Navy on notice to prove the worth of the $50 billion A-12 Avenger aircraft. In the memo sent Friday to Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett, Mr. Cheney wrote that the ``A-12 program is in serious trouble. The apparent schedule slippage, cost growth, and management deficiencies in this program are intolerable.... I direct you to show cause by Jan. 4, 1991, why the department should not terminate the A-12 program and pursue other alternatives.''

Cheney told Congress in April that development of the carrier-based attack plane was on time and within budget, but was embarrassed later when contractors said it was $1 billion over budget and more than a year behind schedule.

The controversy, which was detailed in a Defense Department report released last month, has led to the resignation of the fourth-highest-ranking Pentagon official, and has resulted in the firing of one senior Navy officer and the censure and reassignment of two others.

Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan, chairman of House Government Operations Committee and one of most vocal defense contracting critics on Capitol Hill, applauded Cheney's move, but said problems with the A-12 were merely ``the tip of the iceberg.''

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