Page 1 of 2 DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA The Pentagon's merchants of war By Nick Turse
The top Pentagon contractors, like death and taxes, almost never change. In
2002, the massive arms dealers Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman
ranked one, two and three among Department of Defense (DoD) contractors, taking
in US$17 billion, $16.6 billion and $8.7 billion.
Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop Grumman did it again in 2003 ($21.9 billion,
$17.3 billion and $11.1 billion); 2004 ($20.7 billion, $17.1 billion and $11.9
billion); 2005 ($19.4 billion, $18.3 billion and $13.5 billion); 2006 ($26.6
billion, $20.3 billion and $16.6 billion); and, not surprisingly, 2007 as well
($27.8 billion $22.5 billion and $14.6 billion).
Other regulars receiving mega-tax-funded payouts in a similarly
clockwork-like manner include defense giants General Dynamics, Raytheon, the
British weapons maker BAE Systems and former Halliburton subsidiary KBR, as
well as BP, Shell and other power players from the military-petroleum complex.
With the basic Pentagon budget now clocking in at roughly $541 billion per year
- before "supplemental" war funding for Iraq, Afghanistan and President George
W Bush's "war on terror", as well as national security spending by other
agencies, are factored in - even Lockheed's hefty $28 billion take is a small
percentage of the massive total. Obviously, significant sums of money are
headed to other companies. However, most of them, including some of the
largest, are all but unknown even to Pentagon-watchers and antiwar critics with
a good grasp of the military industrial complex.
Last year, in a piece headlined "Washington's $8 billion shadow", Vanity Fair
published an expose of one of the better-known large stealth contractors, SAIC
(Science Applications International Corporation). SAIC, however, is just one of
tens of thousands of Pentagon contractors. Many of these firms receive only
tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Pentagon every year. Some
take home millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Then there's a select group that are masters of the universe in the
ever-expanding military-corporate complex, regularly scoring more than a
billion tax dollars a year from the DoD. Unlike Lockheed, Boeing and Northrop
Grumman, however, most of these billion-dollar babies manage to fly beneath the
radar of media (not to mention public) attention. If appearing at all, they
generally do so innocuously in the business pages of newspapers. When it comes
to their support for the Pentagon's wars and occupations in Afghanistan and
Iraq, they are, in media terms, missing in action.
So, who are some of these mystery defense contractors you've probably never
heard of? Here are snapshot portraits, culled largely from their own corporate
documents, of five of the Pentagon's secret billion-dollar babies:
1. MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc.
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $3,360,739,032. This is billionaire investor
Ronald Perelman's massive holding company. It has "interests in a diversified
portfolio of public and private companies" that includes the cosmetics maker
Revlon and Panavision (the folks who make the cameras that bring you TV shows
like 24 and CSI).
MacAndrews & Forbes might, at first blush, seem an unlikely defense
contractor, but one of those privately owned companies it holds is AM General -
the folks who make the military Humvee. Today, says the company, nearly 200,000
Humvees have been "built and delivered to the US armed forces and more than 50
friendly overseas nations". Humvees, however, are only part of the story.
AM General has also assisted Carnegie Mellon University researchers in
developing robots for the Pentagon blue-skies outfit, the Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency's "Grand Challenge", an autonomous robot-vehicle
competition. Last year, AM General and General Dynamics Land Systems, a
subsidiary of mega-weapons maker General Dynamics, formed a joint venture "to
compete for the US Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV)
program". AM General has even gone to war - dispatching its "field service
representatives" and "maintenance technical representatives" to Iraq where they
were embedded with US troops.
As such, it's hardly surprising that, this year, the company received one of
the Defense Logistics Agency's Outstanding Readiness Support Awards. Nor should
anyone be surprised to discover that a top MacAndrews & Forbes corporate
honcho, executive vice chairman and chief administrative officer Barry F
Schwartz, contributed a total of at least $10,000 to Straight Talk America, the
political action committee of Republican presidential candidate John McCain,
who famously said it would be "fine" with him if US troops occupied Iraq for
"maybe a hundred years" (if not "a thousand" or "a million").
Perhaps hedging their bets just a bit, MacAndrews & Forbes is diversifying
into an emerging complex-within-the-complex: homeland security. Recently, AM
General sold the Department of Homeland Security's Border Patrol "more than 100
HUMMER K-series trucks for use in border security operations".
2. DRS Technologies, Inc.
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,791,321,140. Incorporated during the
Vietnam War, DRS Technologies has long been "a leading supplier of integrated
products, services and support to military forces, intelligence agencies and
prime contractors worldwide"; that is, they have been in the business of
fielding products that enhance some of the DoD's deadliest weaponry, including
"DDG-51 Aegis destroyers, M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, M2A3 Bradley fighting
vehicles, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, AH-64 Apache helicopters, F/A-18E/F
Super Hornet and F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters, F-15 Eagle tactical
fighters ... [and] Ohio, Los Angeles and Virginia class submarines."
They even have "contracts that support future military platforms, such as the
DDG-1000 destroyer, CVN-78 next-generation aircraft carrier, Littoral combat
ship and Future Combat System".
In addition to 2007's haul of Pentagon dollars, DRS Technologies has continued
to clean up in 2008 for a range of projects, including: a $16.2 million army
contract for refrigeration units; $51 million in new orders from the army for
thermal weapon sights (part of a five-year, $2.3-billion deal inked in 2007); a
$10.1 million contract to build more than 140 M989A1 heavy expanded mobility
ammunition trailers (to transport "numerous and extremely heavy multiple launch
rocket system pods, palletized or non-palletized conventional ammunition and
fuel bladders"); and a $23 million deal "to provide engineering support, field
service support and general depot repairs for the mast mounted sights (MMS) on
OH-58 Kiowa Warrior attack helicopters," among many other contracts.
Fitch Ratings, an international credit rating agency, recently made a smart, if
perhaps understated, point - one that actually fits all of these billion-dollar
babies. DRS, it wrote, "has benefited from the conflicts in Iraq and
3. Harris Corporation
Its total DoD dollars in 2007 were $1,501,163,834. Harris is "an international
communications and information technology company serving government, defense
and commercial markets in more than 150 countries".
It has an annual revenue of more than $4 billion and an impressive roster of
former military personnel and other military-corporate complex insiders on its
payroll. Not only does Harris assist and do business with a number of the
Pentagon's largest contractors (like Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems), it is
also an active participant in occupations abroad.
On its website, the company boasts, "Harris technology has been used for a
variety of commercial and defense applications, including the war in Iraq where
the [Harris software] system provided detailed, 3-D representations of Baghdad
and other key Iraqi cities."
Last year, Harris signed multiple deals with the military, including contracts
to create a high-speed digital data link that transmits tactical video, radar,
acoustic and other sensor data from US