The Pentagon Wars
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (August 2010)|
|The Pentagon Wars|
|Directed by||Richard Benjamin|
|Produced by||Howard Meltzer|
|Screenplay by||Jamie Malanowski
and Martyn Burke
|Based on||The Pentagon Wars
by Col. James G. Burton
John C. McGinley
|Music by||Joseph Vitarelli|
|Editing by||Jacqueline Cambas|
|Running time||1 hr. 43 min.|
The Pentagon Wars is a 1998 HBO film, directed by Richard Benjamin, based on a book of the same name (The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard) by Colonel James G. Burton, USAF (retired). Starring Kelsey Grammer, Cary Elwes and Richard Schiff, the film is a dark comedy describing the development of the M2 Bradley fighting vehicle.
Tagline: They aimed to build the ultimate fighting machine. They missed.
Plot summary 
In its latest effort to curtail excessive spending by The Pentagon, Congress appoints an outsider, USAF Lieutenant Colonel James Burton (Elwes) to observe the testing of several new weapons in development, including the Bradley. Burton reports to General Partridge, who is overseeing the Bradley.
Portrayed as an innocent, Burton quickly becomes disillusioned by the "real" way the development process works, in an atmosphere of corruption and/or bureaucratic inefficiency. Burton witnesses generals, including Partridge, reviewing other inefficient (and eventually cancelled) projects with Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger - such as the M247 Sergeant York and the A-12 Avenger II.
Insisting on getting fully up to speed on the Bradley, Burton delves into the mountains of paper documenting the Bradley's development history:
Originally developed as an armored personnel carrier by Colonel Robert L. Smith (Schiff), the Bradley, after being subjected to the changing (and often conflicting) demands of a panel of armchair generals, is transformed into a hybrid of a troop carrier, a scout vehicle, and an anti-tank weapon platform. To make room for the weaponry, its complement of troops is reduced from eleven to six men; and despite its firepower, it has to be made of lightweight aluminum to serve as a scout vehicle. In the incredulous summation of Burton and his assistant, Sgt. Fanning (Viola Davis), the finished Bradley is "a troop transport that can't carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that's too conspicuous to do reconnaissance, and a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snowblower, but carries enough ammo to take out half of D.C."
By the time General Partridge is put in charge of the project, the Bradley has been in development for seventeen years, at a cost of $14 billion.
In attempting to meet the demands of his superiors, Smith has labored for eleven years without promotion or advancement; when the Bradley is finally approved, he gets his long-awaited promotion to Brigadier General. Smith is a living example of how difficult, if not impossible, it is to develop weapons in an above-board manner; now, as he acerbically explains to Colonel Burton, since completing weapons is the only path to promotion, or lucrative positions in the private sector, the majority of the Pentagon's officials prefer to fake test results, and pass defective weapons and equipment on to the troops in the field.
Burton is disbelieving, until he insists on testing whether the Bradley can stand up to fire under combat conditions. Partridge and his two cronies, Colonel Bach (John C. McGinley) and Major Sayers (Tom Wright), manipulate every test result - for example, by filling the fuel tanks with water instead of gasoline, filling the ammunition with sand instead of propellant, and confiscating a cartload of sheep killed by toxic fumes inside the vehicle when its hull combusts. Burton confronts Sergeant Dalton (Clifton Powell), in charge of the testing range, who admits being ordered to manipulate the test results, but bitterly tells Colonel Burton that every officer who tries to conduct honest tests eventually buckles under the pressure to gain his next promotion.
But Burton refuses to approve the Bradley without a live-fire test, insisting that the current version of the vehicle is a death trap. Eventually, Partridge pulls strings to get Burton fired. But Smith leaks the information to the press, and the resulting scandal leads to the current hearings.
Despite Partridge's denials, the House Committee approves Burton's request for a live-fire test. The night before the test, Burton visits the barracks on the range, and tells Dalton and his men that, regardless of whatever orders they have received from Partridge or his cronies, it is their duty to their fellow soldiers to make sure the test is performed honestly, driving home his point with an anecdote about the horrific casualties caused by defective M-16 rifles issued to American soldiers during the early years of the Vietnam War.
On the day of the test, which Partridge, Bach, and Sayers fully expect to confirm their side of the story, Dalton and his men have actually made sure the Bradley is in fighting condition. When hit by a Soviet anti-tank round, the vehicle explodes spectacularly. Dalton and his men confide to Burton that they had already put the Bradley in the right state before he gave them the speech.
In a postscript, it is explained that the Bradley was extensively redesigned in response to Burton's demands, which significantly reduced casualties from its use during the Persian Gulf War. However, the system was too strong: Partridge and his cronies earned their promotions and lucrative private sector jobs, while Colonel Burton was forced to retire.
- Cary Elwes – Lt. Colonel James Burton
- Kelsey Grammer – Maj. General Partridge
- Viola Davis – Sgt. Fanning
- John C. McGinley – Col. Bach
- Tom Wright – Maj. Sayers
- Clifton Powell – Sgt. Dalton
- Richard Schiff – Lt. Colonel/Brigadier General Robert Laurel Smith
- Richard Benjamin – Caspar Weinberger
Historical background 
The book chronicles a broader history from the 1950s to the mid-1980s, encompassing the time when the "Reformer Movement" sought to bring The Pentagon equipment acquisition process to a requirements based system rather than the prevailing equipment-based system that leans on supplier promises.
The reformers were led, philosophically, by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd and Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney, and went on to include members of both houses of the U.S. Congress. They were receiving input from disaffected members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Marines. This largely uncoordinated group used the media to disseminate the true evaluations of equipment acquisitions that were going over budget and over time with lower than expected performance. Meanwhile, they created the atmosphere for the acquisition of useful equipment such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II and F-16 aircraft that were disliked by the 'establishment' Pentagon hierarchy.
Some events shown in the movie never happened, as the director took artistic license with the original book, which was accurate.
- In reality, James Burton was a full colonel. His film counterpart's rank was changed to Lieutenant Colonel because director Richard Benjamin felt that Cary Elwes appeared too young to be a full colonel.
- One scene shows that, even as the dangerous, defective version is being produced for American forces, a different version has been designed for sale to Israel. In reality, Israel never acquired the Bradley, however it is true that United Defense did offer a version of the Bradley similar to the one portrayed, in that it did have external fuel tanks, as said in the film. While the film insists the Bradley was hoped to be sold on export market, this is either a misstatement, or a failed attempt, as the only foreign user of the Bradley is Saudi Arabia.
"How accurate was the movie? Not at all. I was driven to take notes after the first few minutes and got over sixty substantive errors. The producers took Col. Burton's simplistic but compelling memoir, dumbed it down, took dramatic licence with a lot of things that didn't need it, goofed around with the chronology, and apparently had a head-on collision with an office full of libel lawyers who demanded even more blurring than there already was. The result is a mockery both of the very real issues surrounding the Bradley, and of Burton's very genuine display of moral courage."
- W. Blair Haworth Jr., author of Bradley, and how it got that way, interview on sci.military.moderated newsgroup, 8 April 1998
- Burton, James G. (1993) The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis MD: ISBN 1-55750-081-9