When wars, national disaster, and other conflicts arise across the globe, who says a person are destined to become a soldier when they could instead become an engineer. Wartime production is equally, if not more important to supporting the U.S. war machine. Engineers and other STEM field graduates are heavily recruited during wartime operations to help design, test, and manufacture new machines and weapons. Without this, our troops would find themselves vulnerable to advanced enemy technologies. One of the leading design and prototype teams has been Chrysler Defense, or as it is now known, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS).
To fully understand what goes on inside the current facilities, the history of this company needs to be noted. As mentioned earlier the company began as Chrysler Defense (CD). Chrysler (or back then the Dodge Brothers) first entered into military design and manufacturing in 1917 by producing cargo trucks and artillery guns. One piece of artillery worth noting is the 155 millimeter Howitzer which was built by the Dodge Brothers during WWI in a specially built plant. In between WWI and WWII CD would continue to produce wartime goods for European Allied Nations. During World War II, Chrysler received a rather large government contract to construct and staff a tank-building plant (Zatz, 2015). Judging by the amount of money given to CD (53.5 million) the government must’ve had a great amount of trust in the company and their abilities. This plant was built in Detroit, the contract stated that they were to “turn out an initial $33,500,000 order” (Chicago, 1940). The factory was to be built in around 13 months and created nearly 5,000 jobs both in construction of the plant and those who would staff it. The British were also said to be negotiating for around 4,000 units of there own but this was not figured into the original contract budget (Chicago, 1940). Ground was broke to start building the new plant near weeks later and the first design was in the works. “It took 197 engineers working long hours for 4.5 weeks… The cost of the study was more than $100,000.” (Hampson, 1940). Chrysler was able to start production ahead a schedule. even after facing many challenges as stated: “Building a tank is really a big job, everything from the massive power plants to the delicate parts of a Swiss watch go into a tank” – K.T. Keller (Hampson, 1940). The reason CD was able to start production ahead of schedule was due to their experience in dealing with developing techniques of mass production to deal with the consumer market. Chrysler Defense was also involved with the production of the B-29 Bomber. CD was asked to join the effort to produce more B-29s in early 1942. The facility that produced these engines and others parts was one of a kind, “was the only aircraft engine factory that took in pigs of aluminum and magnesium at one end and pushed out finished engines at the other” (Briant, 1999). By this point in time Chrysler was no stranger to building massive factories in order to meet quotas. This particular factory occupied nearly 30 city blocks, and total cost would be in the area of $2.4 billion in today’s currency (Briant, 1999). After many prototypes and quite a few failures, the final design of the B-29 was produced and an order for 1,664 of these giant superfortresses had been placed. “The company consistently delivered higher quality products, earlier than expected, and at far lower cost” (Zatz, 2015).
After World War II, Chrysler Defense was involved in a variety of projects. In 1958 Chrysler launched ads showing its involvement on launching America’s first ever satellite. They also helped to design a range of other vehicular prototypes varying from turbine powered tanks, a hovercraft, and a screw driven amphibious vehicle. However, CD’s massive war effort decreased after the 1950’s, but they still contributed to space exploration and defensive development (Zats, 2015). After focussing on the average consumer market for quite some time, Chrysler was once again bidding for another Government contract. This next contract was for tank units to be sent to help the South Korean’s retake their land. This contract was to produce a tank known as the M-48, and also construct a factory in Delaware. The agreed upon price was $160 million (Hampson, 1954). Around this same time they were also helping Boeing produce aircraft hulls for rescue missions in areas including Korea (Hampson, 1951). Manufacturing continued as normal until a tragic day came when the President of Chrysler, K.T. Keller, passed away in London. Keller started working at Chrysler when he was only 13 years of age and his starting pay was a whopping 20 cents per hour (Hampson, 1966). He died in his hotel room during a trip to London, reported feeling ill, but by the time the doctor arrived, he was already dead. Cause of death was later determined as coronary thromboses (Hampson, 1966). He was said to be a genius during his years in the administration of Chrysler and help the company prosper and create a higher quality product.
Production remained steady for a number of decades following the end of the 1960’s. Not much had changed until the 1980’s came along. In 1982, Chrysler Defense was sold to the mother company of General Dynamics. The name of these unit were then renamed to General Dynamics Land Systems located in Sterling Heights, MI. Chrysler Defense was purchased for the final price of $348.5 million (Holusha, 1982). The newly named company continued to do what it does best, produce extraordinary vehicles. In 1989, GDLS and a partner starting seeking Army contracts up to $1.0 billion. The Army was looking to created an armored vehicle that could detect nuclear, biological, and chemical contaminations on the battlefield (Chicago, 1989). Sister companies of GDLS had built similar vehicles for use in Western Europe. GDLS was competing for a contract to produce 500 of these vehicles on top of a possible 10 year continuation.
Moving more toward present day, GDLS has had an increasing role in the design aspect of vehicles and less in the manor of actual production. To provide a simple overview of what the company does, here is a excerpt from their website that tells us what the company’s mission is:
“General Dynamics Land Systems is a business unit of General Dynamics Combat Systems group – a global leader in the design, development, production, support and enhancement of tracked and wheeled military vehicles for the United States and its allies.
We have a strong foundation of delivering core engineering and production capabilities to our clients across the military vehicle spectrum. Our team is focused on continuous process and productivity improvements that reduce product costs, while increasing troop safety and effectiveness.
At the heart of Land Systems’ military-vehicle platforms is the Abrams main battle tank and the family of Stryker and LAV wheeled combat vehicles. These key ground-force assets remain critical to the military’s structure and offer continuing opportunities for modernization and enhancements to meet the Warfighter’s evolving requirements. General Dynamics Land Systems – Force Protection gives our clients even more strength and innovation on their side with the MRAP family of vehicles and the Ocelot. Land Systems continues to work with its clients to ensure these vehicles remain survivable, relevant, flexible, affordable and capable of addressing a dynamic threat environment” (GDLS, 2015).
Reading this gives the impression that GDLS is a well focused group of engineers looking to better the safety and production of land vehicles.
GDLS currently employs nearly 7,000 people across three locations. Within the main compound are various buildings ranging from the design center to the vehicle testing grounds. Inside the main design complex is where vehicles such as the M1A1 Abrams Tank and the Stryker are designed, prototyped, and tested all in house. The biggest customers of General Dynamics are the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, but the company also operates overseas in the United Kingdom. The company’s biggest concern has been and always will be safety. Everything from horsepower to firepower comes second to getting soldiers back home. Before a new design heads overseas it has to pass a rigorous inspection and pass a number of tests (Alfieri, 2008). Even after its deployment renovations are still made for all the vehicles produced at the facility due to new threats or obstacles that may inhibit safe use. The engineers working at this facility use state of the art equipment including virtual reality, 3D modeling, and real time war simulations to predict how current vehicles will react to foreign threats and if needed, draw up new ideas. Currently they are also working with Lockheed Martin in developing a six-wheeled autonomous vehicle that can follow dismounted troops through rough terrain (Goodman, 2005). Unmanned Vehicles can also help reduce costs, if there is no human to protect these vehicles do not need as much protection (Werner, 2011). Sadly, there are very few articles about today’s GDLS plant. To go into further detail about the inner workings of the modern day facility I will begin to recall details from when I had the chance to personally tour the design complex inside their facility. The design center is a rather secretive area with good reason to be. Entering the building all visitors are stripped of all electronic devices including simple mechanical watches. Aside from the typical conference rooms this building is quite unique. The ‘design tank’ is an area full of high power computers and computer aided design software (CAD). This is where ideas and solutions are drawn out and tested without ever having to actually make a prototype, the computer can do it all in the software (such as crash tests, and material strength calculations). This room of the building typically holds around 20 people at once all working on interlinking projects. Another section of the same building is dedicated to visual reality. GDLS hopes to implement VR systems in new vehicles to eliminate windows so the cabin of a vehicle can be more secure and damage resistant. This is easily the most advanced area in the building. At the surface, the is a mess of wires and screens, but the VR goggles take the user to a completely new world. Crews also use this technology in house to run scenarios of moving through a vehicle before it is even built. A personal favorite section of this complex according to the staff was the dynamo meter testing room, or dyno for short. This room is where engineers and mechanics strapped down enormous trucks such as the M1A1 tank and test its horsepower and torque specs. The M1A1 tank is said to lay down an impressive 1,500 horsepower and can travel up to 45 miles per hour on a paved road even though it weighs 68 tons (62 metric tonnes). The last section is the one they keep the most hidden and visitors have to go through an even more detailed security scan. It contains two identical rooms full of computers and a room in the middle used for post analysis. The two opposing rooms are used to simulate battles using supercomputers. The best way to describe it is an extremely advanced video game that pins to vehicle convoys against each other. After a battle the results are analyzed and improvements are then made to vehicles in the design stage.
GDLS is a great company assisting in advancing military technology. They not only provide many jobs to the state, but help boost the overall economy. All and all their main mission is to help our troops stay safe overseas. If ever offered the chance to tour the facility it is a worthwhile experience. General Dynamics continues to be a leader in the battle for the best Military based Land Vehicles and brings honor to the lower half of Michigan.
- “Chrysler Signs Tank Contract of $53.5 Millions.” Chicago Tribune 6 Aug. 1940: 29. Tribune Publishing Company LLC. 18 Nov. 2015.
- Hampson, Philip. “RUSH CHRYSLER PREPARATIONS IN TANK MAKING: First Unit Expected Ahead of Schedule. CHRYSLER SPEEDS PREPARATIONS IN TANK MAKING First Unit Is Expected Ahead of Schedule.” Chicago Tribune 13 Sept. 1940: 2.
- Hampson, Philip. “ARMY AWARDS CHRYSLER BIG TANK ORDER: M-48 Contract Is for 160 Million.” Chicago Tribune 30 Sept. 1954, D9 sec.: 1.
- Hampson, Philip. “PLANE HULLS WILL BE MADE BY CHRYSLER.” Chicago Tribune 13 June 1951, C7 sec.: 1.
- Hampson, Philip. “K. T. KELLER, EX-CHRYSLER GENIUS, DIES: Helped Build Third Biggest Car Firm.” Chicago Tribune 22 Jan. 1966, C6a sec.: 1.
- “Army Eyes Chemical-detecting Battle Vehicle.” Chicago Tribune 22 May 1989, C6 sec.: 1.
- GDLS. “About Us.” About Us. General Dynamics Land Systems. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.gdls.com/about-us.php>.
- Briant, George. B-29 Superfortress. “Much More.” WPC News, 1 July 1999. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. <http://www.allpar.com/history/military/b-29.html>.
- Alfieri, P., and D. Mckeon. “STRYKER SUITABILITY CHALLENGES IN A COMPLEX THREAT ENVIRONMENT.” Defense AR Journal 15.1 (2008): 49-63.
- Goodman Jr., Glenn. “Battlefield Robots U.S. Army and Marine Corps Get Serious about Unmanned Ground Vehicles.” C4ISR 19 (2005).
- Werner, D. (2011). What if GCV fails? C4ISR, 32. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/938924576?accountid=28041
- Holusha, J. (1982, February 20). GENERAL DYNAMICS BUYS CHRYSLER TANK DIVISION. The New York Times. Retrieved October 11, 2015.
- Zatz, D. (n.d.). Much More. Retrieved November 17, 2015, from http://www.allpar.com/history/military/