This rough-and-tumble account of how General Dynamics managed, almost despite itself, to become the ranking US defense...


THE DEFENDER: The Story of General Dynamics

This rough-and-tumble account of how General Dynamics managed, almost despite itself, to become the ranking US defense contractor could just as well have been titled The Defendant. But Franklin's well-reported, episodic version of the accident-prone enterprise's checkered history identifies scores of co-conspirators (vote-minded lawmakers, job-hunting Pentagon officials, et al.) and provides thought-provoking perspectives on the military-industrial complex, which are generally lacking in Jacob Goodwin's Brotherhood of Arms (1985). The only vendor of major land, sea, and air weapons systems to all three branches of the armed forces, GD traces its roots back to the late 19th century when a Boston Irishman named John Phillip Holland helped found what became Electric Boat Co. to build submarines for a reluctant Navy. The fledgling firm prospered until 1917, the year America entered WW I and management decided--erroneously--that there was money to be made in cargo ships. The star-crossed concern survived a major congressional probe during the 1930's, Franklin recounts, and performed well during WW II. Electric Boat became General Dynamics during the Korean Conflict, largely because its chief executive correctly saw the US would support a permanent defense industry. Subsequently, GD acquired Convair from Floyd Odlum, and eventually it took over the contracts to build Army tanks from cash-strapped Chrysler, thereby becoming a tri-service supplier. Along the way, GD also picked up Material Services, a semi-shady Chicago construction outfit, and a headstrong stockholder in the person of its owner, Henry Crown. Franklin deftly reprises a number of past scandals and embarass-merits that prefigured the company's current status as a target of criminal-fraud charges. He recalls, for example, the expensive failure to crack the commercial jetliner market, the infamous TFX (which, with the ill-advised backing of Robert McNamara, became the costly F-111), and the F-16, whose Air Force-dictated modifications have proved a heavy burden for taxpayers as well as pilots. The author rounds out his cautionary narrative with briefings on P. Takis Veliotis, a former board member who is now a fugitive from federal prosecution in his native Greece, and James Begg, another corporate officer under indictment--for alleged wrongdoing on an anti-aircraft project. Franklin offers a savvy, balanced critique of General Dynamics and its Defense Department customers. His considerable accomplishment is having gone well beyond the entertainment value of the horror stories to assess the implications of a national security system that not only permits but also encourages wasteful and shifty procurement practices.

Pub Date: June 4, 1986


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1986