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Arms Trade Show Gets Lift From Conflict

January 23, 1991|CHRIS KRAUL | SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUSINESS EDITOR

SAN DIEGO — Get a group of farmers together and the talk is likely to center on fertilizers, sorghum yields and the like. Gather some defense contractors, and the conversation is bound to revolve around war and weapons.

What makes this week's convention here of the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Assn. so unusual is that the 4,000 in attendance have a real war to talk about.

The representatives of Motorola, Raytheon, Harris Aerospace and other exhibitors at the defense trade show are relating a minimum of stories about the deals that got away this week at the San Diego Convention Center.

Rather, many of the 600 exhibitors have real on-the-job tales to tell about their products and how they have performed so far in the Persian Gulf War.

Apart from industry gossip, the talk in the booths, food lines and hallways at the Convention Center has focused, too, on how the war is going and how long it might last.

Most of the exhibitors at the show either manufacture the electronic controls for high-technology weapons, or they make military communications and intelligence systems. No armaments are on display, although some of the weapons makers--such as Raytheon, prime contractor on the Patriot missile--are displaying products at the show.

A main topic of discussion--and a source of pride for many of the high-tech companies--is the Patriot, the antiballistic missile that has destroyed a number of Iraqi Scud missiles. The performance of the Patriot and of weapons such as the Tomahawk cruise missile are seen as strong proof that nation's multitrillion-dollar gamble on high-tech weaponry has paid off.

During his Tuesday luncheon keynote address, Undersecretary of the Navy J. Daniel Howard reflected the general feeling when he actually led a round of huzzahs for Raytheon. "Let's hear it for the Patriot," Howard said. "It works."

Although the Raytheon booth featured no Patriot missiles, it did have a satellite image receiver that is being used by allied pilots and missile launchers to locate Iraqi and Kuwaiti strategic targets. The receivers are also being used to locate Iraqi troop movements.

Another hot product was Motorola's two-way, hand-held radio system being used by allied soldiers, sailors and pilots. And the booth for Librascope, the Glendale company that makes the submarine launchers for the Tomahawk cruise missile, received many admiring visitors Tuesday.

Security was tight at this most somber of arms bazaars, with the Convention Center's security force bolstered by plainclothes San Diego police officers and Naval Investigative Service officers brought in to protect the Navy brass in attendance.

Trade group President John A. Wickham Jr., a retired Army general, said security at the event was increased as a result of the war. But he added that the event is closed to independent arms dealers, and that attendance is carefully screened to keep unfriendly foreign countries out.

"There's nothing for sale here," Wickham said. "Companies are here to show off technology."

Police insisted that domestic anti-war demonstrators, not shadowy Iraqi arms dealers, were their chief concern. All products and product literature at the show are non-classified and received approval for display from Defense Department officials.

"There's nothing here that hasn't already been seen in shows around the world," said Librascope executive Richard Kennersknecht.

Wickham said the event's main function is to serve as an "ethical forum" at which arms producers can meet with end users in the military. Such forums are hard to come by in the aftermath of the Ill Wind defense procurement scandal and the resulting tighter rules governing the contacts between defense contractors and military personnel.

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