They call themselves "Old Crows" and they came to Washington to discuss war.
Not the wars of blind killing, with bombs and whining bullets, but the wars of evasion and stealth fought with black boxes and electronic impulses. Wars of technology.
They are experts in electronic warfare, or EW as they call it, and they were here this week at the Washington Hilton for their 16th annual convention. And despite the military flavor of the gathering -- the members' firms do big business with the Pentagon, to the tune of $1.5 billion yearly -- the Crows do not see themselves as engineers of death.
"This is not a hostile group," says Crows president Tony Brees of Florida. Electronic warfare is not hostile.We don't kill anybody, sterilize anybody or destroy anybody's brains."
What they do, they agree, is revel in expensive, sophisticated gadgetry, an occupation they proudly trace back nearly 40 years.
Their name, the Old Crows boast, derives from World War II, when electronic warfare was in its infancy. Allied bomber aircraft in Europe had escort aircraft equipped with radio transmitters that jammed German radar. The jammer planes went by the code name, "Raven," later changed to "Crow."
Not surprisingly, most of the founding members of the Old Crows have military backgrounds -- usually with the Air Force. The Defense Department sponsors the Old Crow electronic warfare trade fair each year and this year, provided them with auditorium space at Andrews Air Force base so they could conduct "technical" meetings and displays.
"Technical" turns out to mean that a government security clearance is required to attend.
"Everybody here has a background that requires a high-level security clearance," said William Jardine, a business development manager for Eldyme, Inc. of Fairfax. "This is a very close-knit group - - in fact, It's a little incestuous."
All week they talked in baffling, quasi-mathematical codes. Phrases like "the increasingly pervasive influence of EW and C-cubed CM on combat effectiveness" came to their lips with ease.
Lapel buttons succinctly stated: "F16 Goes Internal with Loral Raport ECM."
They held classified seminars on such subjects as "The Electronic Target Environment," "Warsaw Pact Electro-Optical Threats," "Terrain Bounce Jamming," and "Multi-Discriminant Clutter Suppression Techniques for IR Search Sets."
"In the old days, we called it radio CM and after that, radar ECM," said Mel Marcus, an Old Crow from Northridge, Calif. "Then people got into countermeasures and we called it ECCM. Then they countered our countermeasurers and the whole thing got so complicated that we just called it electronic warfare."
"I am tired of this Dr. Strangelove stuff," said Harry F. Eustace. Eustace is publisher of the EW trade magazine, "Defense Electronics," not to be confused with "Electronic Defense," another of the industry's bibles.
"Last year, we had a guy here who called us an arms bazaar in print. I resent that," Eustace said as he looked around at the awesome array of technological glitter that makes up the unclassified exhibits.
It was not so much an amrs bazaar as an electronic warfare fair.
The Old Crows strolled among booths, eating popcorn and listening to salemen give sprightly, "media-oriented" pitches. They watched microwave machines weave mesmeric patterns and looked at intricate versions of what, for all the world, look like model airplanes.
Later in the day, they thronged to the center of the exhibition floor, pressed toward the bar surrounded by model missiles and then went to drink underneath a radar dish antenna.
The association insignia -- a little black crow whose claw emits electronic rays -- was everywhere. It was worked into all the displays and was used to represent all 44 national chapters ("roosts") and those of "NATO and other friendly nations."
There were Crow coffee mugs, Crow decals and Crow rugs. Founding members' pockets jingled with Old Crow decals and Crow rugs. Founding [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] tions were emblazoned with the Crow.
Survivability is among the Old Crows' most precious words, one of their most deeply help concepts. It's what makes electronic warfare different. It's what makes their life worthwhile.
"EW is the ability to survive all those missiles shooting at you," said one Boeing engineer, his eyes sweeping around the room as if one might be pointed at him right now.
"A lot of guys standing in this room today wouldn't be here today if we hadn't improved the survivability ratio said Jerry Sessler, vice president of the Sanders Corp. of Nashua, N.H. and one of the industry's giants.
"The whole battlefield is electronic now. The Israelis know this," he continued. "During the Yom Kippur War, they tested out a lot of EW concepts. Without EW, that war might have turned out differently."
But survivability seems to be a personal concern as well out on the leading edge of technology.
"Technology is moving ahead at such a rapid rate, you have to get out of engineering," said one man who started out as a engineer but is now involved in marketing for ITT's aero-space-optical division.
Otherwise, he said sadly, "You become obsolete."