The Pentagon Wars is a movie made on the basis of a book of the same name, written by the US Air Force Colonel James Burton (ret.). Story, which is told through a series of flashbacks, focuses on the development of the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle.
Beginning of the movie shows the US Army Major General Partridge being questioned by the House Armed Services Committee. During the questioning, US Army’s practice of falsifying test results to secure quick induction of new weapons into service is brought to light. Examples shown include infrared antitank missile, where a target vehicle was artificially heated to extreme temperatures to allow the missile to find its target; a Paveway laser guided bomb which was hoisted above the target by a crane as it would not hit otherwise. Finally, the Bradley fighting vehicle is brought up, upon which flashbacks begin.
Flashbacks start with Colonel Burton meeting General Partridge. Immediately, General tries to win Burton over, talking to him almost as an old friend. He also tries to push his own ideas – namely, that weapons testing is unnecessary and that Bradley should go into production as-is – onto Burton, as well as trying to buy him by talking about people that he (Partridge) helped get into important positions within military and military industry. He also gives Burton some documents about weapons in testing – all from the official US Army point of view – and asks him to “return the favor” by giving Bradley some “extra attention” to enable deployment as soon as possible.
After that, the movie focuses on Burton’s attempts to secure honest and transparent evaluation process. During that entire time, high officers in the US Army spend time trying to prevent precisely that, and impede Burton’s investigation. Tricks shown as being used include using substandard weapons, testing the vehicle without ammunition or fuel onboard and overloading Burton with mountains of documents so that he wouldn’t have a time to read it. They also try to reassign Burton to Alaska. However, Burton also gets help from within the US Army, but the officer helping him tries hard to stay anonymous in order to save his position. This allows him to discover Army’s tricks (such as ammunition being used not being capable of penetrating an ammunition shed door). He manages to bypass the Army censorship as well as to shame the troops into giving him an honest evaluation right under the officers’ noses, with spectacular results – Bradley blows up, thus failing the tests. As a result, Bradley is redesigned to make it more survivable, which reduced casualties during the Gulf War. Pentagon got 1 billion USD for the Bradley redesign, officers involved with it were either promoted or went to defense industry and colonel Burton was forced to retire.
Movie discusses many questions that are even more relevant today. After the major corporate mergers in the 1990s, US defense industry has gained even more influence in US Government – especially military – than before. Military officers aim for top positions in the defense industry firms, which places them under pressure to secure contracts for that same industry during their careers. They also want to make sure that weapons they are responsible for get into service as quickly and cleanly as possible so as to gain promotions and thus high wages and later pensions – in addition to ther work within the industry. Consequently, dishonest testing, falsification of test results and outrageous claims about capabilities of new weapons are commonplace, even more so than during the era that the movie covers. Unfavorable information is still being classified in order to make weapons appear better than they are, and high-ranking military officers lie to the government to make weapons appear better than they are. And in 2005., US Army has institutionalized the corrupt procurement/design process described in the movie with a top-down driven concept development process – in other words, whenever a general gets a “good” idea, rest of the Army has to make it happen; reality and facts be damned.
Another problem discussed is how generals, without any idea about realities of combat, overload the design teams with wildly requests for the vehicle to be able to perform a huge number of wildly different tasks. End result is a vehicle which is incapable of doing any of its tasks properly – just like the Bradley. It is a troop carrier which cannot carry enough troops (having a capacity of only six), a tank destroyer which cannot destroy tanks (many got destroyed in the Gulf War, by the most incompetent miltary on planet). Due to its multirole nature it also turned out way too expensive – so expensive that the US Army was not able to replace its Vietnam-era M113 armored troop carrier, which remains in service to this date. It was never able to become amphibious either.
Overall, movie succeeds in providing a good insight into functioning of procurement process at Pentagon. It also provides good commentary on ethical issues surrounding procurement of high-value items and need for good internal oversight in order to avoid abuse of power for somebody’s personal gain.