William Perry served as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering in the Carter administration, overseeing many of the technology development decisions that still guide strategy today, including the F-18 fighter, the development of stealth technology and the Apache helicopter.
Under President Bill Clinton, Perry served as deputy defense secretary for a year before being promoted to the top job, where he oversaw shaping the Pentagon in the early post-Soviet years during his February 1994 to January 1997 tenure. That included decisions about the size of the force and increasing military relations with Eastern European nations, as well as overseeing peacekeeping operations around globe.
In the contractor world, Perry is perhaps best known as the man who presided over 1993's infamous "Last Supper," where the then-deputy secretary hosted the CEOs of the top defense firms and issued the ultimatum that shrinking defense budgets would require consolidation among them.
Perry’s comments that night are seen as the starting point for a wave of mergers and acquisitions that dramatically changed the industry landscape – in a 2005 paper, Pierre Chao, then of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that "By the end of the 1990s, 107 firms had become five" – creating the current, top-heavy defense industrial base.
Perry’s influence remains seen throughout the Pentagon today, as current Defense Secretary Ash Carter has talked glowingly about him as a mentor, and Deputy Secretary Bob Work cites Perry frequently when discussing the need for the US needing a "Third Offset Strategy." Republican senators who want to push through acquisition reforms have also noted Perry’s technology-development role as a model they are looking to recreate.
Over the last year, Perry has re-entered the public discussion thanks to his vocal opposition to plans to modernize America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, warning that Russia and the US are headed to a nuclear modernization akin to that of the Cold War.
"I see an imperative," Perry said last December, "to stop this damn nuclear arms race from accelerating again."
This article is part of a larger Defense News 30-year anniversary project, showcasing the people, programs and innovations from the last three decades that most shaped the global security arena. Go to
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Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.