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The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard.

Once, contemplating the infantry strength of the old Warsaw Pact, an internal slogan of the Pentagon was "fight outnumbered and win." Throughout the 1980s, the military reform movement did exactly that to the Pentagon, defeating a superior well-armed force while armed solely with facts and ideas.

Looking back, the pace of change was spectacularly rapid. In 1979 James Fallows published, in The Atlantic Monthly, the first of his many articles concerning the existence within the Pentagon of the military reform movement, a loose association of uniformed and civilian officials convinced that weapons cost too much and did too little; equally important, that U.S. defense tactics and training methods were designed more from high-tech illusions and bureaucratic self-interest than awareness of what actually worked under field conditions. Military reform seemed like the ultimate lost cause, given the determination with which defense establishments resist new ideas, the array of well-connected interest groups that benefit from excessive Pentagon spending, and the distaste felt by the liberal establishment when people such as Fallows, and publications such as the Atlantic, advocated reforms that would make the American military stronger. More, the public coming-out of the military reform movement occurred just before Ronald Reagan came to office, expounding the notion that high military spending was in itself desirable. Military reforms were outnumbered, outgunned, outfinanced, and seemed certain to be outmaneuvered.

Instead, by 1985, just as six years after defense reform went public. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger had cancelled the expensive and under-performing DIVAD automated antiaircraft gun, the first cancellation of a major weapon ready for production in the postwar era; the Army had torn up its field operations manual, replacing it with one based on the theories of maneuver warfare favored by reformers; a prominent reformer, Chuck Spinney, had been on the cover of Time magazine; and the entire old-line Pentagon establishment was in retreat before, at most, a few dozen poorly organized critics.

By 1990, just 11 years later, reform thinking had taken over many aspects of Pentagon life. Defense Secretary Richard Cheney would cancel the Navy's A-12 attack jet and demote its sponsors within the admiralty, publicly telling the Pentagon procurement hierarchy he was sick of being lied to about weapons costs. This was an amazing turn of events, considering that Weinberger spent much of the 1980s denying that this problem existed and previous Defense secretaries had happily averted their eyes from it. By 1990, the U.S. military would prepare for battle in the Gulf War using what was in no small part of reformer's script, wielding reformer weapons.

Many people, including a larger contingent of active-duty officers than might be guessed, played important roles in the military reform movement. Its central figures were John Boyd, Robert Dilger, Everest Riccioni and Charles Myers Jr., retired fighter pilots; Thomas Amlie, Thomas Christie, Ernest Fitzgerald, Pierre Sprey, and Spinney, civilian Pentagon analysts or consultants; former Senator Gary Hart and his aide William Lind; former congressman and former fighter pilot Denny Smith and his aide John Heubusch; former House Armed Services Committee staffer Anthony Battista; Fallows (conflict alert: an obvious Monthly favorite); Dina Rasor, who ran a small private foundation that publicized Pentagon abuses; and James Burton, a recently retired Army colonel.

Now Burton has written a book about his role in the movement. Both a kiss-and-tell (or maybe punch-and-tell) about Burton's confrontations with various defense big cheeses during the 1980s, and a critique of the military mindset, The Pentagon Wars goes far toward explaining how vast sums of money are wasted in the name of national defense and how large bureaucracies ca engage in elaborate deceptions to avoid facing the truth about their own actions.

Burton was the colonel who almost single-handedly compelled the Army to conduct realistic live-fire testing of its M2 and M3 Bradley "fighting vehicles" (essentially, fancy personnel carriers). The tests showed the $1.7 million-per-copy Bradley much more vulnerable to antitank weapons than the Army's favored computer simulations had claimed. These tests ultimately led to sensible improvements, which surely helped keep some Bradleys struck by weapons in the Gulf War from lighting up, and other cases kept fires and explosions under control long enough for crews to dismount. Burton quotes Maj. Gen. Peter McVey as saying. "During Desert Storm, more soldiers' lives were saved as a result of Bradley live-fire testing than we can count."

For his efforts Burton was hounded by the Army brass, which regularly attempted to transfer him to Alaska and other choice locations far from the Pentagon budget. At one point, Alton Keel, a Reagan appointee as undersecretary of the Air Force, had to threaten the Army that he would resign, in public, if Burton was not left on the job. Eventually Burton went public, first in congressional testimony and then on television. This guaranteed reform in the Bradley program, but was the end of Burton's active duty career.

The Pentagon Wars is surprisingly well-written for a first effort by a man used to drafting memos in military-speak: easy to follow, full of bright metaphors and lively insider anecdotes. At one point Burton notes that an Army statement to Congress grudgingly allowed, "|Bradley survivability can be improved.' The Army said this while attempting to prevent me from saying, |Bradley casualties could be significantly reduced.' It claimed that my statement was classified." At another point, Burton recounts an episode in which Richard DeLauer, Weinberger's chief acquisition official, and well-known as an autocrat who never met a technical gizmo he did not like or a bill that seemed too high, agreed in 1983 to appear on "Good Morning America" with Rasor and Delaware Senator William Roth, sponsor of a bill requiring realistic testing. "During a commercial break," Burton writes, "DeLauer grabbed the senator by his coat lapels and shook him while he shouted at Roth, |Stop listening to these reformers! Listen to me!'"

The DeLauer anecdote rings hollow. DeLauer actually grabbed a United States senator by his lapels and shook him? In a television studio, with cameras everywhere? Burton does not indicate his source of the account. Presumably he was not present, since Burton did not go public till 1986, three years later.

In numerous places in his book Burton offers anecdotes in which he or other reformers appear entirely sainted while the Pentagon old guard seems not just entrenched or addled, not just conniving, but actively EVIL. There's no indication of whether the depictions flow from Burton's recollection and thus have been filtered by his own biases; or can be verified by neutral witnesses; or whether Burton has conducted interviews.

There is little doubting that Burton was treated poorly by much of the defense establishment. But in The Pentagon Wars he spends too much time on his own travails and not enough on such subjects as the actual result of reform ideas. Here, he is much more compelling.

He writes, for example, of a perennial Monthly cause, the A-10 antitank aircraft. This plane, championed by Boyd, Sprey, and others, was from its birth despised by the Air Force because it is a low-cost, low-tech subsonic machine designed to support the Army. When the buildup for Desert Storm began, the Air Force planned to leave the A-10 home, partly from fear that it would show up the warp-speed fighters that cost 10 times as much. Norman Schwarzkopf insisted the Air Force's A-10 be brought, using the cross-service authority that cam to him thanks to the 1986 legislation that reorganized the Joint Chiefs of Staff to reduce interservice rivalries, another reformer cause. According to Burton, though comprising just 15 percent of the combat aircraft in the Gulf, A-10 units accounted for more than 50 percent of the confirmed bomb damage.

The retired Army colonel David Hackworth has written in Newsweek that Iraqi troops feared the A-10 far more than the high-tech jets with the smart bombs, for while the latter would make a quick discrete hit on a small point then roar off, A-10s would make repeated passes, spraying large areas with heavy-caliber cannon fire. And unlike the thin-skinned high-tech jets that had no choice but to avoid zones of heavy enemy fire. A-10s attacked the thick of Iraqi defenses; plated with armor, they proved almost impossible to shoot down. Needless to say, practically on the day the Gulf conflict ended, the Air Force resumed its previous project of attempting to have the A-10 removed from active service, to be replaced by a thin-skinned supersonic superbomb aircraft costing several times as much.

Burton offers a substantial contribution to the understanding of the actual use of maneuver warfare with his section on Schwarzkopf's "left hook" tactic against Iraqi forces. Some of what Burton says is news and deserves wide attention.

When ground fighting began in Desert Storm, Marine and Army units attacked Kuwait and Saddam Hussein's southern flank, while two Army armored cavalry corps, commanded by Lt. Generals Gary Luck and Frederick Franks, staged the "left hook," racing first to the west and then east into Iraq. The plan was to reach Basra, north of the main assault line, encircling the Iraqi army and cutting off its retreat. The left hook units were specifically ordered to destroy Hussein's Republican Guard, his best troops, many of which were safe behind the line while forced conscripts served as fodder at the front.

The hook was highly likely to succeed, given the vast coalition advantage in air power, logistics, and intelligence; and the hundreds of billions of dollars U.S. taxpayers had invested in fast-moving M1 tanks, Bradleys, and helicopters that can shift the point attack with speed. Considering how much was spent, it would have been shocking if the left hook tactic had not worked.

Burton says: It didn't work.

Reformers have generally praised the left hook, saying it shows the military took the heart the notion of innovative, fast-changing maneuver warfare - rather than static or "attrition" combat - that is beloved by reformers and embodied in the Army doctrine manual with the zoomy name AirLand Battle. To Burton, the left hook shows that the Army has managed t stultify maneuver warfare, too.

According to Burton, the reason most of Saddam's Republican Guard managed to escape the Gulf War, and have since kept their despot in power, is that the left hook units failed to reach their objective of "closing the door" behind the Iraqi retreat, as Schwarzkopf said they would. Further, Burton asserts, some units failed, at best, to execute, and perhaps defied Schwarzkopf's order to engage and destroy as much of the Republican Guard as possible before the cease-fire took effect.

Here, Burton says, is what happened. First, the jet-turbined-powered M1 tanks that made up the bulk of the left hook elements consume seven gallons of fuel per mile - not seven miles to the gallon, but seven gallons per mile - far more than any other tank in the world. Almost from the outset of the left hook, M1 tanks began outrunning their fuel supplies. Burton says that Franks, worried about being caught exposed, slowed his armor down to a net advance of less than what might have been achieved by diesel-powered tanks that have lower top speeds but don't halt as often to refuel.

Equally important, one of the planks of AirLand Battle, a plank fought by the most important reformer, the retired colonel John Boyd, calls for forces to "synchronize." Boyd has long asserted that synchronization is for watches, not people; under the stress of war things happen so differently from what was expected that plans should be forgotten and targets of the moment pursued. But, Burton writes, the left hook units wasted many hours sitting around waiting for one another to catch up, so that the advance could be synchronized. When the cease-fire came, there were tanks in an onion field west of Basra, less than an hour from cutting off the Republican Guard; the tanks had been waiting several hours to get synchronized. Thus did maneuver warfare, intended as a free-form antibureaucratic strategy that would make best use of the American edge in fast-moving equipment, intelligence, and personal initiative, begin to acquire the weight of a new orthodoxy.

Plane speaking

Important as military reformers have been, Burton errs by exaggerating their significance. To hear him tell it, for example, Boyd, Sprey, and Spinney were single-handedly responsible for the development of the successful and relatively low-cost A-10, F-16, and F/A-18 aircraft. These men played important roles and, to a surprising and welcome degree, bent the Pentagon old guards to their wills, but it is ridiculous to think these projects could have succeeded if they did not have many, many sympathizers on the Pentagon's E Ring, on Capitol Hill, and in the field.

Burton further errs by declining to acknowledge the failings of the reform movement. He might have mentioned that Robert Dilger ended his career in mild disrepute when a homemade antitank weapon he was attempting to sell to the Pentagon discharged in the back of Dilger's pickup truck at an Arlington, Virginia, gasoline station, setting a gas pump ablaze and injuring three people.

Reformers, especially Rasor, mercilessly ridiculed the M1 tank, calling it a turkey or saying its complex gizmos would prove so unreliable in combat that the Older, cheaper Russian-built T72 would emerge superior. Fuel consumption aside, the M1 performed almost flawlessly in the Gulf. There were no notable breakdown problems, despite the desert sand and heat. In most confrontations between M1s and T72s operated by Iraqis, the M1s scored first- or second-shot kills well before the T72s were close enough to commence fire. None of this is mentioned in The Pentagon Wars. Since the reform movement has been right about so many things, it's no shame to have been wrong about a few things. But given how vehemently reformers savaged the Pentagon for refusing to face the faults of its dogma, it's unfortunate to see a reformer do the same.

Burton portrays the reform movement as composed entirely of miserable outcasts. In fact, one reason reformers accomplished so much was access. Boyd has personally spent hours briefing (tutoring would be the better word) most recent members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, many of their senior officers, and several recent top civilian defense officials, up to Secretary Cheney. Sprey, Spinney, and others have been able to develop powerful critiques of military spending and performance because they not only have Pentagon or near-Pentagon employment but also access to privileged military information. Nearly all the reformers have had many allies in Congress and in the media. When Spinney got into trouble, Time went to bat for him. When Burton got into trouble, and undersecretary went to bat for him.

Melodrama may make the reformer's story a better read, but when Burton lets his feelings slip into self-pity, his credibility suffers, especially considering that Burton himself could sometimes be a tad hard to take, exhibiting the kind of zeal and belief in his own chosen status often observed in whistle-blowers. When in 1987 The Washington Post's Outlook section ran an article "by the establishment defender Fred Reed" savaging military reformers, Burton was aghast that "attempts to get the congressional Military Reform Caucus to react and come to [our] defense were useless. The leaders had abandoned their troops under fire. Those of us who were hard-core reformers realized the movement was dead." Apparently Burton had come to expect that every setback, even an unfavorable article, would lead to a storm of congressional and media counter-responses.

(Reed's article was memorably out of touch, lambasting reformers in drawn-out fashion for what Reed claimed was a childish mistake about science in asserting that the aluminum in Bradley armor can burn. Aluminum is a metal, Reed argued, and thus is not combustible. In fact, many metals burn: Uranium burns hideously well. The propellent in the space shuttle's solid-rocket boosters is a powdered form of aluminum. There, Colonel Burton, you are avenged.)

The Pentagon is still expensive and cumbersome, and procurement outrages continue, as the Air Force's difficulties in trying to build the C-17, not all that different from a commercial jet, attest. Yet the Pentagon has gone through many changes since the reform movement went public in 1979: an almost admirable number of changes, given the military's resistance to reform. Budgets are declining; bases are being closed; admirals are fired for lying about costs; unreliable weapons such as the M1 have been made reliable; relatively affordable weapons like the F-16 and F/A-18 continue to dominate the procurement budget; the Joint Chiefs now have real responsibility; blacks and women are ascending to the senior ranks; nuclear weapons are being dismantled; maneuver warfare, however flawed, is official policy; recent performance in the Gulf and Somalia was not only efficient but, more importantly, moral. Not bad at all for the creaking old Pentagon to have come so far in just 14 years. Reformers have much to be proud of.

Yet Burton exists the stage embittered. He tells us Sprey has given and now records music for a living; "John Boyd is retired to Florida, Dina Rasor moved to California to raise a family, Bob Dilger is farming in Ohio, Tom Amlie retired ... I retired to a small, rural county in Virginia." To Burton, the reformers left town defeated, the Pentagon remaining wholly EVIL. His book concludes, "the whole [military] business stinks, regardless of the service involved. The sad truth is that no one really gives a damn."

This is not, in fact, the truth. Many people did care; many aided the reformers in their efforts and thanked them broadly for the results. And no reformers were personally harmed by experience. Burton, Rasor, and Spinney became media celebrities for a spell, which has its downside but is hardly imprisonment at the Gulag. True, none of the reformers has gone onto wide glory or a chest full of metals. But anyone who takes on a big institution from the inside knows, or ought to know, that a personal price will be paid - that's what makes such people heroes.

It may well be that sometime soon, while people such as Boyd are still alive, Pentagon internal revisionism will advance to the point where some of the reformers are called to the E Ring or White House and given the formal recognition of service, including the medals, that they have earned. I hope that happens. But if it does not, the reformers should know that saving the lives of soldiers and making the country stronger are thanks enough in themselves. The medals and the ceremonies are a lesser coin of compensation.
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Author:Easterbrook, Gregg
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:3092
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