Merchant of Death: Textron

Landmines ‘R’ Us

Textron started in 1923 as a small textile company.  During World War II it supplied the military with parachutes and landing boats.  After the war, the company became known for its bed linens and lingerie.  Decades later, Textron has grown to encompass everything from EZ-Go golf carts and boats to recreational Cessna planes.

Despite this diversity, Textron really means bombs, not bras. The company manufacturers have advanced weapons and surveillance systems, as well as cluster weapons, the Super Cobra attack helicopter, and the Huey II.  Textron has 37,000 employees in more than 30 countries and $10 billion in sales.

Cluster Bombs

“I do not think our potential adversary has any idea what is coming,” boasted Gary Crowder from U.S. Air Combat Command during a Pentagon news briefing just days before the U.S. led bombardment of Iraq began.  He was describing Textron’s CBU-87 Senor Fused Weapon(SFW), which was slated to make its “combat debut” with U.S. forces in Iraq.  Each of the SFW’s sub-munitions contains four hockey-puck-sized explosive “skeets” equipped with infrared sensors that guide them to armored targets.  Their self-destruct mechanisms are designed to reduce the failure rate of the bomb.

Between May 2003 and August 2006, U.S. forces dropped more than 12,000 CBU-97 bomblets, asserts Handicap International in a new report entitled “Fatal Footprint: The Global Human Impact of Cluster Munitions.”  Since the beginning of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” Human rights Watch estimates the total number of deaths and injuries due to cluster munitions is more than 1000 people.  UNICEF asserts that more than 1000 children had been killed or injured “by weapons such as cluster bombs.”

Textron is always improving on this deadly technology.  The company’s promotional literature describes the CLAW - Clean Lightweight Area Weapon as “the next generation smart soft-target munition.”  For those not familiar with the military jargon, a soft target is a person.  Textron boasts that a “single 64-pound munition has the footprint and effectiveness of a 1,000-pound legacy cluster bomb.”

Textron is one of many companies feeding at the trough of the Pentagon’s latest boondoggle: the so-called “Future Combat System” (FCS). The Army has a multi-billion-dollar program to develop 18 manned and un-manned systems which are connected by an extensive communications network.  Textron has also been contracted to provide surveillance and weapons sensors and is one of 40 companies in New England that will reap $7 billion is FSC-related contracts.  According to Boeing, which is the lead system integrator on the project, there are 535 companies in 40 states receiving FCS contracts.

Textron has a lot of friends in Congress, like Senators David Vitter (R) and Mary Landrieu (D), who represent the company’s Louisiana employees.  At a recent press conference, the senators heralded Textron and its workers as the “unsung heroes of the war on terrorism” for their work on the Armored Security Vehicles, which are adept at surviving IED (improvised explosive device) attacks.  Representative Marty Meehan (D) from Massachusetts, where Textron is performing work on FCS, is equally enamored and defended the huge investment the Pentagon is making in FCS by saying, “These are investments we cannot afford not to make,” and warning “We’re going to pay a price if we don’t re-double our efforts in research and development of systems like FCS.”

In both cases, military contracts mean jobs for congressional constituents and investment in their districts.  So while ending the war in Iraq will be more successful in saving the lives of troops than these new killing machines, Landrieu, Vitter and Meehan are all for them.

Frida Berrigan

A member of WRL’s National Committee, Frida Berrigan is a columnist for Waging Nonviolence  and a ”stay-at-home” mother in New London, Connecticut, where she lives with her husband Patrick Sheehan-Gaumer and their three children. She is the daughter of Plowshares activists Liz McAllister and the late Philip Berrigan and author of "It Runs in the Family: On Being Raised by Radicals and Growing into Rebellious Motherhood", a memoir of her childhood as their daughter and her adult life as an activist and a mother.