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General Dynamics Falsified Weapons Tests, Suit Says

Times Staff Writer

General Dynamics Corp. was accused Friday of using “cheater software” and other fraudulent practices to falsify tests and supply defective components for the U.S. Navy’s Phalanx anti-missile gun system and the Standard Missile program.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court, one former and four current General Dynamics employees--technicians, supervisors and quality-control specialists--accused the St. Louis-based defense contractor of encouraging its employees to engage in widespread test falsifications that may have compromised the integrity of the two weapons systems.

“This has resulted in the delivery of Phalanx systems to the Navy which are of unknown quality and integrity, and which are unreliable for their designated functions in the field,” the suit said.

Navy Helped, Suit Alleges

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The suit, filed under the federal False Claims Act, also alleges that the Navy “acquiesced, authorized and possibly directed” the test falsifications and later assisted General Dynamics in covering them up to help the company meet its quotas on the two programs.

The civil action was supposed to be filed under seal because of a law that requires such procedures so that the government can determine whether a criminal investigation should be launched before companies are alerted of the allegations. Such procedures also are required to protect the whistle-blowers from company retribution.

But the suit apparently was mistakenly unsealed shortly after its filing late Friday by the court clerk’s office, allowing reporters to review the document.

Court officials could not immediately explain how the lawsuit came to be unsealed.

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Herbert Hafif, the Claremont attorney who filed the suit, could not be reached for comment, but his investigator on the case, Jason Rowe, said he was disturbed that reporters saw the document.

“The case was filed under seal. It never should have been released. Mr. Hafif will be very concerned for the welfare of his clients and the government’s opportunity to investigate,” Rowe said.

Company Has No Comment

Chris Schildz, a spokesman for General Dynamics in St. Louis, said he could not comment on the allegations. “We are not aware of any suit having been filed, and have not been served with any suit of the kind you have described,” he said.

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Schildz said he had no information on whether the government has launched a criminal investigation into the allegations raised in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs who filed the suit asked that General Dynamics be forced to pay triple the amount of “all money wrongfully” received from the federal government, but the suit mentioned no amount. The plaintiffs also asked for an unspecified amount in damages.

The suit’s five plaintiffs are Jason R. Madden, a quality assurance calibrator technician who recently obtained disability leave; manufacturing supervisor Diane Billington, an employee of the company since 1975; Daniel S. Cummings, a quality assurance specialist for the last nine years; David Villanueva, a senior test engineer who left the company in September, 1987, and Teala Cummings, an eight-year test technician who is on job-related stress disability.

The Phalanx is an anti-missile system that tracks incoming aircraft missiles and then directs ground-based guns to fire at the missiles. A total of 550 Phalanx missile systems have been sold to the U.S. government at a price of $5 million to $7 million each, according to the lawsuit.

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The Standard ship-to-air missile system--manufactured by General Dynamics for the last 30 years--is also capable of intercepting incoming missiles. “Innumerable numbers” have been sold to the government at $205,000 each, the lawsuit said.

Quality Inspections Bypassed

The suit alleged that General Dynamics “encourages, teaches and utilizes various means and systems to allow faulty, discrepant, non-conforming hardware to pass tests” and complained that the company has “entirely bypassed” quality inspections and falsified documents to cover up the false testing.

According to the suit, employees frequently turn testing equipment on and off to get a “pass” reading on faulty hardware, plug false data into testing equipment to make it appear that the component has passed, or miswire test equipment to produce false readings.

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A “cheater software” computer program allows company technicians to begin running a test, then abort it and obtain a passing reading, the suit contends.

“General Dynamics has encouraged and utilized a system whereby testing technicians will leave one piece of hardware on the testing equipment and merely change the serial number on the test sheets,” the lawsuit alleged.

According to the suit, the problems on the Standard Missile program began in August, 1983, when Gordon Webster was named to head the program.

“With the advent of Mr. Webster, the Standard Missile has been stripped of its quality assurance controls, coupled with the growth of a delivery-oriented approach to the manufacture and assembly of the Standard Missile,” the lawsuit says.

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