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One-Stop Shopping, Military Style

October 19, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Need to pick up some helicopters, light armored vehicles and tank ammunition for your country’s defense? The easy answer is one-stop shopping - military style - with the Association of the United States Army.

With the blessing of the Defense Department, the association is holding its annual meeting this week featuring the customary big-name speakers such as former Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci and information panels on topics like Soviet forces and national security.

The main attraction, however, is the approximately 200 defense industry and Army exhibits on every imaginable aspect of weaponry.

″The exhibits ... reflect the latest in military doctrine, technological advances and hardware improvements,″ says the association, which has held what it touts as ″the largest landpower forum in the free world″ for the past 35 years.

Among the items on exhibit in the bowels of a Washington hotel were a full- scale light armored vehicle, a handful of howitzers and several high-tech videos promoting helicopters, M-16 machine guns and night-vision goggles.

Beribboned officers, fresh-faced cadets and defense industry officials created traffic jams as they grabbed glossy brochures, closely examined the rifles and handguns and questioned the hundreds of company representatives.

Some sat transfixed as they watched a sophisticated video on the LHX helicopter displayed on 16 television monitors. It was a combination of James Bond and Top Gun.

″Time to smell the coffee, sucker,″ said the helicopter pilot as he maneuvered his aircraft through mountain ranges and green valleys and located his target with the help of a British-sounding female voice.

″Have a nice walk home, Ivan,″ the pilot said after a successful hit.

But beyond all the glitz, there was serious business as officials from General Motors, McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, ITT Defense and John Deere briefed representatives from foreign countries and the United States on their latest wares.

For the buyer who can’t afford to fly from one company to the next, the meeting provides a ″great place for networking in a marketing environment,″ said Joe O’Brien, an official with General Motors, as he stood in front of the company’s 14 1.2-ton light armored vehicle equipped with a 25mm gun.

The meeting, according to O’Brien, is strictly for the buyer who wants to browse.

″No contracts. We don’t even talk about contracts. If we did the defense secretary could not endorse it,″ he said. ″Those types of things are verboten.″

Instead, the companies tout the advantages and successes of their products with the hope that a telephone call or meeting at a later date will result in a sale.

General Motors’ light armored vehicle is ideal for low-intensity conflicts and in fact, 14 of them were flown into Panama when the rebel forces led a failed coup against leader Manuel Antonio Noriega, according to the General Motors official.

The vehicle has ″great acceleration, a low silhouette, when it’s smaller it’s harder to hit, great mobility,″ O’Brien said.

Like in a car showroom where prospective buyers kick the tires, people have come up and knocked their knuckles on the vehicle and said, ″Oh boy, this is it,″ he said.

On the other side of the room, in front of a large video screen, representatives of Bell Helicopter Textron praised the V-22 Osprey, the aircraft that takes off like a helicopter but flies like a plane.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, in his budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, proposed killing the program. The move was met with opposition on Capitol Hill where the Marine Corps aircraft enjoys a great deal of popularity.

House and Senate conferees hammering out a final defense bill have not yet reached a decision on the aircraft. But Dick Spivey of Bell Helicopter Textron is convinced the Osprey is key to the nation’s defense.

″Noriega may be here in jail now if we had the V-22,″ the company official said.

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