The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard

By James G. Burton. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1993. 306 Pages. $36.95.

Lt Col Harold E. Raugh, Jr., United States Army (Retd) reviews this book exclusively for DJ.

James G. Burton, as a United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, was assigned to the Pentagon for the first time in 1974.  He was ambitious and motivated, indicated by two early below-the-zone promotions, and eager to continue to lead his peers in the “race to the top of the career ladder,” (p. 28), his admitted goal.  Burton then believed — as do so many other idealistic officers — that “hard, honest work inside the system would get me to the top,” and that “the people at the top were equally honest and the system has rewarded them for believing the same” as he did (p. 29).  Burton was assigned to the Pentagon three times and served there for a total of fourteen years, becoming totally disillusioned in the process.  He is, however, intimately familiar with the topics he has written about.

The first half of this book deals with what Burton calls the “Reform Movement,” a group of military officers and civilians who challenged the bureaucratic corruption, incompetence, and dogmatism of the Pentagon from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s. These reformers conducted guerilla warfare in Congress and elsewhere to expose false claims of high-technology advocates and proponents of service parochialism.  Burton highlights aircraft design and procurement processes pitting the “Fighter Mafia” against senior Air Force leadership.

Burton identifies US Air Force Colonel John Boyd as the brainchild of the Reform Movement.  Boyd’s 1976 presentation “Patterns of Conflict,” based on his extensive analysis of historical patterns of conflict and his synthesis of scientific theories for successful operations, became the cornerstone of the Reform Movement.  According to Burton, “Patterns of Conflict” inspired the Army’s “AirLand Battle” doctrine and subsequent manoeuvre warfare theories.  This part of the book is enthralling.

The Air Force, however, is not in this book, the only service to receive  Burton’s darts.  The Navy is castigated primarily for its A-12 debacle.  The Army’s DIVAD air defence gun disaster, unverified computer testing of anti-tank weapons and other systems, and the shameful Bradley Fighting Vehicle saga all come in for deserved criticism.  Burton is rightfully proud of his confrontation with the Army (and it makes chilling, sober reading) which required the latter to conduct realistic testing on the Bradley.  This probably saved many soldiers’ lives during the Gulf War.

Of special interest is the Epilogue, including pre- and post-Gulf War observations on weapons acquisition, employment, and operational theory.  The synchronization component of the AirLand Battle doctrine is condemned rightly as stifling initiative and agility, especially in the chaos and confusion of the modern battlefield. The example of Lt Gen Frank’s VII Corps’ adherence to the dogma of synchronization is chronicled for its failure to accomplish its mission of destroying the Iraqi Republican Guard.

Burton’s revelations are enlightening, fascinating, and — deeply disturbing. While this thought-provoking book can possibly serve as a realistic primer to a Pentagon assignment, it also reveals the pervasiveness of “shady” and corrupt weapons testing and procurement and gross mismanagement. This well-written and eye-opening book is definitely worth reading, and hopefully it will inspire others to “give a damn” and try to further fight Pentagon moral and ethical corruption and incompetence.