The standard-issue Army duffle bag rides atop U.S. M-1 tanks in the Saudi desert, ready to be unpacked and transformed within five minutes into a metal frame and fabric replica of another M-1 tank -- a heat-emitting decoy designed to fool enemy gunners.
These $5,000 dummy tanks, made by TVI Corp. of Beltsville, are part of a vast array of smart decoys that the U.S. military uses either to draw enemy fire or to give the appearance of a stronger force. TVI also makes decoy copies of other Army vehicles and has developed a camouflage net that suppresses heat emissions so tanks, trucks, command centers and military personnel can avoid being located by infrared sensors.
"If we can get the bad guys to fire one round into one of our tank decoys, then we have saved some lives, gotten the enemy to give away his location and allowed U.S. tanks to destroy him," said Nick P. Vamvakias, TVI vice president for special projects.
From Beltsville and Baltimore to Reston and the rest of the Northern Virginia suburbs, consulting and manufacturing firms in the Washington area are contributing know-how and products to Operation Desert Storm.
Raytheon Corp. of Lexington, Mass., has gotten most of the credit for manufacturing the Patriot missile system, the hottest weapon of the war because of its success in knocking down attacking Scud missiles with a mighty blast. But Martin Marietta Corp. of Bethesda holds 40 percent of the contract. Its Baltimore plant builds the launcher, with its canister that holds four missiles, and its Orlando, Fla., operation is working around the clock to assemble and test the missile system before it is shipped to the war zone.
While Raytheon holds the most lucrative part of the Patriot contract -- building the complex electronic brains that fire and guide the missile to its target -- Martin Marietta makes the launchers and the missiles. But the contribution from the Washington area to the war goes beyond defense giants such as Martin Marietta to smaller, more specialized companies that make less glamorous products.
"There is a tremendous need for the less glamorous kind of thing," said retired Army Gen. Richard Thompson, former head of the Army Materiel Command, who now serves as chairman of an Arlington consulting firm, Thompson Delstar Inc.
Other Washington area companies making contributions to the war effort include:
Radiations Systems Inc. of Sterling, which makes the sophisticated dish antennas that allow Patriot batteries to communicate with each other and with the central firing command post.
WorldCorp. of Herndon, which is flying charters loaded with men and material to the gulf.
Bethesda's Survival Technology Inc., which makes an antidote to nerve gas for the military.
General Kinetics Inc. of Rockville, which has supplied the U.S. Central Command in Saudi Arabia with facsimile machines that can't be bugged.
Mobile Telesystems Inc. of Gaithersburg, which makes satellite telephones that allow instant communications without going through commercial systems and are being used by the military, as well as journalists, in the Persian Gulf.
PRC Inc. of McLean, which has specialists aboard Navy ships in the gulf helping to train military personnel in dealing with the complex electronics of modern warfare.
DynCorp of Reston, which has set up repair depots in Saudi Arabia to maintain military helicopters.
These contractors and others describe their participation in Desert Storm with pride in their products and patriotism for the country, tinged with a reticence about angering their Pentagon contracting officers or giving away military secrets.
They said they are not being told by the Pentagon to keep mum, but that contracting officers have made it clear that the less said the better.
To show support for the war effort, TVI's Beltsville factory has dressed up a soldier's head, one of the decoys the company makes, with a GI helmet and a Saddam Hussein "wanted" poster.
In Baltimore, Martin Marietta workers hauled up a big cloth banner saying "Scudbusters" over their work area.
"You could have seen four or five of our computers on television the other night" said Bob Marino, vice president of C3 Inc., the Herndon company that has a Marine contract to build rugged computers for use in the field. He was proudly describing a view of the intelligence room of the First Marine Division in Saudi Arabia.
"The Marines were working on computers," Marino said. "They were our computers."
But Marino would not say much more. Similarly, Mercade A. Cramer Jr., president and chief executive of Vitro Corp. of Silver Spring -- it won a $62 million contract in Novemberto provide technical services for the Aegis, the Navy's most sophisticated guided missile cruiser -- declined to give any information about his company's activities in the Persian Gulf War.
Although Martin Marietta stock has risen 14 percent and Raytheon stock has risen 9 percent since the bombing attacks on Iraq started 11 days ago, analysts are split over whether the success of U.S. weapons in the gulf has breathed new life into a defense industry suffering from reduced post-Cold War Pentagon spending.
Right now, the military is using up stockpiles. The overtime programs and extra shifts ordered by many defense contractors are merely speeding the delivery of existing orders.
"This is a transition," said Norman R. Augustine, president and chief executive of Martin Marietta. He doubts the gulf war will produce a boom for the U.S. defense industry. "It will have a modest impact, relatively small, as we replace stock."
"Historically," he added, "the nation has been unprepared for its wars. We were unprepared for World Wars I and II and the Korean War, and if Saddam Hussein had just waited three more years we would have been unprepared for the Persian Gulf War."
The top-gun performance of the Patriot system in knocking out most Scud missiles over Saudi Arabia and Israel has made it the featured weapon of the Persian Gulf War -- the equivalent for this campaign of the celebrity given the French-made Exocet missile that Argentina used to sink a British frigate in the 1982 Falklands War.
If the aftermath of the Falklands War is any indication, every Third World nation will want its own Patriot system just as they wanted Exocets, which now are part of Iraq's armory.
Both Raytheon and Martin Marietta have noted increased foreign interest in buying the Patriot, a source of added sales if the Pentagon well runs dry. Saudi Arabia already has ordered 18 to 20 more of the weapons, which cost $700,000 each. Now Turkey and Great Britain are seeking Patriot sales on top of orders already delivered to Germany, the Netherlands and Japan.
Martin Marietta has eight other systems in use in the gulf and Augustine expressed great pride in how well they have performed -- especially since many high-technology systems, including the Patriot, had been dismissed recently as toys for U.S. generals and admirals that were unlikely to work under wartime conditions.
Radiation Systems President Richard E. Thomas, whose sophisticated communications antennas are giving allied forces the ability to exchange instant voice, facsimile and computer transmissions, has begun expanding his business overseas in both defense and non-defense sectors. The company is selling military products "to today's friends," Thomas said, and civilian gear to such countries as Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Poland and Portugal for use as earth satellite receiving stations.
Radiation Technology's products in the gulf range from $90,000 front-line antennas for the Marines to $300,000, 16-foot dishes that are part of the Air Force's newest, most sophisticated command center. A smaller version of that, a $150,000, 9 1/2-foot dish antenna, is easily transportable, folding into a suitcase. Thomas said the company has built 300 of the trailer-carried, front-line antennas for the Marines, 160 of the big dishes for the Air Force and 40 of the smaller version.
The Marines' forward antenna is built to withstand 300 openings and can be moved with the unit when it advances or retreats, Thomas said. It can be unfurled in 12 minutes into a eight-foot dish and rolled back just as quickly.
"We played a very, very key role in the development of those kinds of assets," Thomas said. "Four or five years ago we learned that the government was tired of leaving fixed assets in countries that turned unfriendly" -- such as Iran or Vietnam -- "and wanted to be able to bring out what it put in." With the more portable dishes made by his company, Thomas said, "it's not likely to happen now."
Not every company has been able to capitalize on products that it developed for the military. TVI Corp. President Charles R. McConnell still smarts over the "smart" camouflage netting his company devised for the military, which contains built-in technology to hide heat emissions. He said the Defense Department liked the product, but thought TVI was too small a company to turn out the netting fast enough to meet gulf-war deadlines. The Pentagon awarded the contract to a larger competitor.
Now the Beltsville factory is empty, all its decoys have been shipped to the gulf and its other main product, targets for U.S. tank training, aren't needed because its Army customers have a real live enemy to target.
But McConnell said his small company is awaiting a new order for tank decoys. Meanwhile company is seeking to diversify into the civilian arena, using the ability it honed on defense products to add a high-technology component to simple materials.