If bad tidings do come in threes, Utah's aerospace industry will be more than happy to stop at just two thank you.
Sufficient time hadn't even passed for comments made 24 hours earlier by NASA brass concerning the space agency's plans to build the next generation of space shuttle boosters somewhere other than Utah to hit the fan, when another piece of equally disturbing news out of the nation's capital was competing for headlines.Air Force officials announced plans Friday afternoon to slash the Midgetman missile program by nearly 50 percent because of budget constraints. The announcement, although anticipated, is not good for two major Utah defense contractors Hercules Inc. and Morton Thiokol which both have contracts with the Air Force to supply motors for the proposed small mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.
The Air Force, dusting off its best jargon, said it is "de-scoping" the Midgetman program from $2.02 billion to $1.02 billion despite a House committee action earlier this week doubling the Reagan administration's request for Midgetman from $250 million to $500 million in fiscal 1989.
The Air Force said that even with the extra cash, not enough money would be available to fund the Midgetman's development cost. It's been estimated the Midgetman would cost $36 billion to build and billions more to operate it on trucks roaming U.S. highways.
An Air Force spokesman, however, insisted the Midgetman is not being canceled. Rather, the Midgetman is "being redefined because of and consistent with reduced fiscal year 1988 funding and the fiscal year 1989 budget request," the spokesman said.
Hardest hit by Friday's announcement is Hercules Inc.'s Aerospace Production Group in Magna. Hercules will lose $72 million of a nearly $170 million contract for the Stage III rocket motor. More than 300 employees are affected.
Morton Thiokol's Strategic Operations, 25 miles west of Brigham City, is also a big loser as the Air Force will trim $51 million of a $126 million contract for the Stage 1 Midgetman rocket motor. That cutback will affect about 350 workers.
But spokesmen for both companies said they believe layoffs associated with the cutbacks can be minimal because employees will be absorbed into other projects.
Jack DeMann, Hercules spokesman, said the company was officially notified of the Midgetman decision on Friday, although he acknowledged rumors of the potential cutbacks had been circulating for weeks.
He said the impact of losing the Midgetman contract will be minimized by Hercules' success in landing space-related contracts such as the Delta and Titan projects that can absorb some of the workers who would otherwise have to be laid off. Because of the
space projects, the number of workers who will likely be laid off will be between 80 and 120, instead of 200 to 300.
"We're, frankly, in a down cycle," he said. "We're working for contractors, and what Congress establishes as a priority, we have to go along with."
Morton Thiokol spokesman Rocky Raab said Morton Thiokol was also aware cutbacks were coming. "No it's not a complete surprise even the magnitude is not a surprise. Some planning has been done, but the exact level of reduction is news and was only revealed today."
Raab said the company plans to scale its Midgetman program down to 50 employees within the next 3-5 months. He said it's still too soon to tell about layoffs, although the company's intent is always to transfer them to other projects if possible. Normal attrition will also be a factor.
Gov. Norm Bangerter seemed relieved to learn the bulk of employees affected will likely be retained by their companies. Bangerter also said he will join Utah's congressional delegation in encouraging President Reagan's successor to seriously consider continuing the Midgetman program in the future.
Not all the news is bad for Utah, however.
Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci is said to favor building 50 more MX missiles and making them mobile by installing them on railroad cars at a cost of $12 billion. And building more MX missiles would benefit Morton-Thiokol, which builds the MX first-stage motor.
But talk of scrubbing the Midgetman in favor of the MX doesn't sit too well with Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Salt Lake.
Owens said Friday he takes exception to the Air Force cutting back a vital missile like the Midgetman in favor of installing MX missiles on railroad cars. He said the Midgetman makes more sense as a mobile missile in the long run. "While the MX also has implications for Utah, I'm not convinced railroad basing is a sound program.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, was less critical. He said the Air Force alone cannot be blamed for cuts in money for the Midgetman missile, the members of Congress who voted to reduce defense spending are equally responsible.