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Hughes Microelectronics Division

At the time of the incidents we are investigating, Hughes Microelectronics Division was a division of Hughes Aircraft. Hughes Aircraft in turn was owned by General Motors, a major automotive corporation. Hughes Aircraft was originally started in 1932 by the multimillionaire Howard Hughes as a division of Hughes Tool Company. During World War II, Hughes Aircraft became the dominant entity and grew to enormous size as a result of its Defense Department contract to produce radio equipment. After the war, Hughes branched out into radar systems, radar guided missiles, video and infrared imaging, and thermal detection. The company was therefore heavily invested in microelectronics equipment, and began manufacturing its own microelectronics for its systems. Thus was born Hughes Microelectronics. Hughes was one of the original players in the rise of the use of computing technology in defense.

During the 1980’s, Hughes Aircraft was one of the top defense contractors in the nation. Hughes Microelectronics was producing chips that were used in at least 73 different military programs during the time from 1985 to 1987. The programs are very important, and lethal systems: F-14, F-15, and B-52 aircraft, guided missiles, radar systems, satellites and tanks. The list covers every branch of the military and many other major defense corporations.

The chips that Hughes Microelectronics was manufacturing were shipped to all these programs as customers. Some "customers" were really other divisions of Hughes Aircraft, and other customers were other defense contractors who were using Hughes parts to produce their own systems for the US government or other purchasers of arms.

Multi-year and multi-system contracts of the kind that Hughes Microelectronics had with the government were worth billions of dollars to Hughes and to its parent companies. So it was clearly in Hughes best interest to meet the guidelines of the contracts.

Some guidelines, however, can exert more immediate pressure than others. Customers (including the US military) call and ask where the chips are that are late, and when they will be delivered. These are immediate questions and need to be responded to immediately.

On the other hand, the outside inspections of the chip manufacturing process are only scheduled at predictable intervals and are announced in advance. Most of the inspection of the process of testing is done internally, by Hughes employees, who report to those who ultimately also have to answer to the customers who are waiting for late chips.

Directors, supervisors, and managers thus have more immediate pressure on them to "deliver the chips" than to make sure that every test on the chips is done. This is the reality of the choices that workers like Margaret Goodearl and Donald LaRue and their supervisors in Hughes Microelectronics Environmental Testing area were facing.