General Dynamics has long been one of the largest military contractors for the Pentagon and many foreign governments. The company’s roots go back to the pioneering work on military submarines by the Electric Boat Company, but it later expanded into surface ships, aircraft, tanks and, most recently, military information technology. It became best known for deadly products such as the Trident nuclear submarine, the F-16 fighter jet, the M-1 tank and the Tomahawk cruise missile.
Given its overwhelming dependence on military contracts, the company was hard hit by the decline in U.S. military spending after the end of the Cold War. It sold off many of its operations and considered disposing of the rest and shutting itself down. But the comeback of military spending via the Gulf War encouraged General Dynamics to hang on. Before long, it was buying new assets, focusing its military operations on shipbuilding (in part through the purchase of the historic Bath Iron Works) and armored vehicles such as the Strykers widely used in the war in Iraq. It also increased its commercial work through the purchase of corporate jet maker Gulfstream Aerospace. At the end of 2007, General Dynamics had a total contract backlog worth $47 billion.
General Dynamics has been embroiled in numerous controversies involving the quality of its work and cost overruns, though in recent years it has tried to improve its reputation while restructuring its activities.