General Dynamics and the machinations of defense procurement By David Clark Scott

Brotherhood of Arms: General Dynamics and the Business of Defending America, by Jacob Goodwin. New York: Times Books. 419 pp. $18.95. Most people can relate to the oil industry. You buy gas at the neighborhood station. You see Arnold Palmer on television talking about his old tractor and hawking motor oil.

But the defense industry is a lot tougher to get a handle on. You have no contact with it. You don't put a quart of 10W40 into your M-1 armored tank before heading off to work.

Most of what we know about weaponsmakers comes to us in sensationalized, often biased reports by the news media. And that is part of the reason Jacob Goodwin wrote ``Brotherhood of Arms.'' He says that the defense procurement process is one ``where the public has seriously misunderstood what's going on.''

But ``Brotherhood of Arms'' isn't about the press and defense procurement. Rather, Goodwin's intent is to shed light on a complicated process that seldom gets explained; an imperfect process that, of late, has been reduced to headlines concerning $7,622 coffeepots -- and often mistakenly leaves the impression that the government is blameless and the defense contractor a cheat.

And it is a process worth understanding, when you consider that next year alone, the Department of Defense will use your tax money and spend an average of $2,400 per family to develop and buy military hardware.

Goodwin reveals the machinations of this process by deftly (for the most part) weaving it into the history of the General Dynamics Corporation.

General Dynamics is the third-largest defense contractor in the nation. But GD is the only contractor to have all three branches of the armed services beholden to it for major weapons.

You've heard of the F-16 jet fighter? GD makes it. You've heard of the Trident submarine? GD makes it. You've heard of the M-1 tank? GD makes it. How about the Tomahawk cruise missile? You guessed it.

Perhaps due to its size and success, General Dynamics has also probably been raked over the coals by the Navy and Congress more times than any other contractor. In the past year, it was up before Congress for, among other things: giving jewelry and illegal gifts to Adm. Hyman G. Rickover (now retired); charging the government for the boarding of an executive's dog at a kennel; and allegedly submitting inflated expense claims.

Goodwin's well-researched, detailed, and timely examination of recent imbroglios, as well as past prob- lems, makes for insightful and occasionally exciting reading.

The book bogs down now and then when tracing the origins of various divisions of General Dynamics. Although enlightening, some of the elaborate descriptions of how a weapon is approved or designed, and other bureaucratic procedures along the development trail, can be a bit tedious.

The most engrossing sections are those taking the reader into the heat of the battles that GD chairman David Lewis has fought with the Navy. And it's fascinating to get an inside look at the wrangling and political infighting that goes on within the military services over which weapons are developed.

As a reporter, editor, and consultant on the weapons business for the last nine years, Goodwin knows whereof he speaks. While he says most of GD's misdeeds have been ``blown out of proportion,'' his book is not the work of an apologist. In fact, with the exception of one interview with David Lewis, the company did its best not to cooperate with the writing of this book. Nonetheless, Goodwin gives the company a fair shake -- which is more than it frequently gets in the press.

Staff writer David Scott writes on the defense industry for the Monitor's financial pages.

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