The government has indicted Northrop Corp. for allegedly falsifying test data on cruise missile guidance systems, raising questions whether the strategic nuclear weapon would function in time of war.
The aerospace giant and five current or former employees were charged Tuesday with conspiring to defraud the government in the construction of part of the Air Force missile's guidance system and a component of the Navy's Harrier fighter jet.The 167-count indictment charged that Northrop and the employees conspired to install parts for the Flight Data Transmitter of the cruise missile that failed to meet government specifications.
In addition to the suspect guidance systems, the defendants were accused of falsifying test data on the Harrier stability system.
The U.S. District Court indictment said the cruise missile data transmitter was required to undergo tests for effectiveness in extreme cold but were not performed. The indictment said defendants falsely certified untested units.
In some cases, faulty components were certified as having passed tests, according to the indictment.
Northrop said it "strongly disputes any allegations of criminal behavior" in the indictments that were announced Tuesday night by U.S. Attorney Robert Bonner.
"Northrop has cooperated fully with the government during its investigation," the Century City-based company added.
Bonner said the Air Force and Navy are evaluating evidence on the falsifications to determine if action must be taken to ensure reliability of the air-launched missiles (ALCMs), which are mounted from the wings of B-1B and B-52 bombers, and the stability system for the Harrier jet.
But John Pike, an aerospace analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based Federation of American Scientists, said, "Most bombers must fly over the polar ice cap. The ALCMs are going to get very cold. It would raise the possibility that a significant number would not work if they were called on to work."