The Pentagon Wars

Last updated
The Pentagon Wars
The Pentagon Wars.jpg
Based onThe Pentagon Wars
by Col. James G. Burton
Screenplay by Jamie Malanowski
and Martyn Burke
Directed by Richard Benjamin
Starring Kelsey Grammer
Cary Elwes
Viola Davis
John C. McGinley
Olympia Dukakis
Richard Benjamin
Richard Schiff
Music by Joseph Vitarelli
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers Martyn Burke
Danny DeVito
Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher
Gail Lyon (co-executive producer)
Producers Howard Meltzer
Gary Daigler (co-producer)
Production locations Washington, D.C.
Cinematography Robert Yeoman
Editor Jacqueline Cambas
Running time1 h 43 min
Production company HBO NYC Production
Distributor HBO
Original networkHBO
Original release
  • February 28, 1998 (1998-02-28)

The Pentagon Wars is a 1998 HBO military comedy film directed by Richard Benjamin and based on the book The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard by Colonel James G. Burton, United States Air Force.



Major General Partridge (Kelsey Grammer) is in charge of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle project, which has been in development for seventeen years at a cost of $14 billion. In an effort to curtail excessive spending by The Pentagon, Congress appoints an outsider, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James Burton (Cary Elwes) to observe the testing of several new weapons in development, including the Bradley.

Burton quickly becomes disillusioned by the atmosphere of corruption and inefficiency at the Pentagon. He delves into the mountains of paper documenting the Bradley's development history and comes to the conclusion that it 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 has enough ammo to take out half of D.C."

Burton's attempts to test the Bradley under combat conditions are obstructed by Partridge and his two cronies, Colonel Bock (John C. McGinley) and Major Sayers (Tom Wright). But then Burton is contacted by Brigadier General Robert L. Smith (Richard Schiff), the frustrated officer previously in charge of the vehicle's development program, who feeds him evidence on condition of anonymity.

Burton confronts Master 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.

When Burton refuses to approve the Bradley without a live-fire test, insisting that the current version of the vehicle is a death trap, he loses his position and is ordered to Alaska. But an anonymous leak from General Smith leads to Defense Secretary Weinberger demanding a full written report on the Bradley. Partridge, ignorant of the Bradley overall, cancels Burton's transfer and orders him to write his report, then has the report extensively rewritten by his own aide. Following the Army rule book, Burton then sends a memorandum referencing the original report to everyone who is technically involved in the project. This information leaks to the press and the resulting scandal leads to a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

The hearing is humiliating to Partridge, who attempts to duck simple questions by pretending to search for documentation (which his helpful aide provides to him in front of the Committee, to his further humiliation). The skeptical Committee Chairwoman (Olympia Dukakis) goes on to order the test that Burton has requested.

The night before, Burton visits the barracks on the range and tells Dalton and his men that, regardless of whatever orders they have received from Partridge, it is their duty to their fellow soldiers to make sure the test is performed honestly.

On the day of the live-fire test, Partridge, Bock, and Sayers fully expect to confirm their story that the vehicle is perfectly safe, but are unaware that Dalton and his men have actually made sure the Bradley is fully armed and fueled. When hit by an anti-tank missile, the vehicle explodes spectacularly, showering the horrified audience, including the House Committee members, with debris. Afterwards, Dalton and his men confide to Burton that they had already become convinced of his sincerity and were with him ever since.

A postscript explains 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.


Related Research Articles

M551 Sheridan American light tank

The M551 "Sheridan" AR/AAV was a light tank developed by the United States and named after General Philip Sheridan, of American Civil War fame. It was designed to be landed by parachute and to swim across rivers. It was armed with the technically advanced but troublesome M81/M81 Modified/M81E1 152mm gun/launcher, which fired both conventional ammunition and the MGM-51 Shillelagh guided anti-tank missile.

George S. Patton United States Army general

George Smith Patton Jr. was a general in the United States Army who commanded the Seventh United States Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War II, and the Third United States Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

Daniel Ellsberg American economist and whistleblower known for releasing the Pentagon Papers

Daniel Ellsberg is an American economist, political activist, and former United States military analyst. While employed by the RAND Corporation, Ellsberg precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of the U.S. government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War, to The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers.

Bradley Fighting Vehicle Armored fighting vehicle

The Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) is a tracked fighting vehicle platform of the United States manufactured by BAE Systems Land & Armaments, formerly United Defense. It was named after U.S. General Omar Bradley.

<i>Pentagon Papers</i> U.S. Dept. of Defense report on the history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam from 1945-67

The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, is a United States Department of Defense history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The papers were released by Daniel Ellsberg, who had worked on the study; they were first brought to the attention of the public on the front page of The New York Times in 1971. A 1996 article in The New York Times said that the Pentagon Papers had demonstrated, among other things, that the Johnson Administration had "systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress."

Stryker Armored personnel carrier – Infantry fighting vehicle hybrid

The ICV Stryker is a family of eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles derived from the Canadian LAV III. Stryker vehicles are produced by General Dynamics Land Systems for the United States Army. It has 4-wheel drive (8×4) and can be switched to all-wheel drive (8×8).

Creighton Abrams United States Army general (1914–1974)

Creighton Williams Abrams Jr. was a United States Army general who commanded military operations in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1972, which saw United States troop strength in South Vietnam reduced from a peak of 543,000 to 49,000. He was then Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until his death in 1974.

Fedor von Bock German Army field marshal

Moritz Albrecht Franz Friedrich Fedor von Bock was a German Generalfeldmarschall who served in the German Army during the Second World War. Bock served as the commander of Army Group North during the Invasion of Poland in 1939, commander of Army Group B during the Invasion of France in 1940, and later as the commander of Army Group Center during the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941; his final command was that of Army Group South in 1942.

<i>Battle of the Bulge</i> (1965 film) 1965 film by Ken Annakin

Battle of the Bulge is a 1965 American widescreen epic war film produced in Spain, directed by Ken Annakin, and starring Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, and Charles Bronson. The feature was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and exhibited in 70 mm Cinerama. Battle of the Bulge had its world premiere on December 16, 1965, the 21st anniversary of the titular battle, at the Pacific Cinerama Dome Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Battle of 73 Easting Tank battle fought on 26 February 1991, during the Gulf War

The Battle of 73 Easting was fought on 26 February 1991, during the Gulf War, between the armoured forces of the United States as well as the 1st Armoured Division of the United Kingdom and those of the Iraqi Republican Guard and its Tawakalna Division. It was named for a UTM north–south coordinate line in the featureless desert that was used as a phase line to measure progress of the offensive as they were going through what the Iraqis thought was trackless desert. The battle was later described by Lt. John Mecca, who participated in the battle, as "the last great tank battle of the 20th century." This battle took place several hours after another, smaller, tank battle known as the Battle of Al Busayyah.

Future Combat Systems

Future Combat Systems (FCS) was the United States Army's principal modernization program from 2003 to early 2009. Formally launched in 2003, FCS was envisioned to create new brigades equipped with new manned and unmanned vehicles linked by an unprecedented fast and flexible battlefield network. The U.S. Army claimed it was their "most ambitious and far-reaching modernization" program since World War II. Between 1995 and 2009, $32 billion was expended on programs such as this, with little to show for it.

M247 Sergeant York Self-propelled antiaircraft gun

The M247 Sergeant York DIVAD was a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG), developed by Ford Aerospace in the late 1970s. Based on the M48 Patton tank, it replaced the Patton's turret with a new one that featured twin radar-directed Bofors 40 mm rapid-fire guns. The vehicle was named after Sergeant Alvin York, a famous World War I hero.

Franklin C. Spinney

Franklin C. "Chuck" Spinney is an American former military analyst for the Pentagon who became famous in the early 1980s for what became known as the "Spinney Report", criticizing what he described as the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences. Despite attempts by his superiors to bury the controversial report, it eventually was exposed during a United States Senate Budget Committee on Defense hearing, which though scheduled to go unnoticed, made the cover of Time magazine March 7, 1983.

Battle of Phase Line Bullet

The Battle of Phase Line Bullet was one of a series of clashes which led to the destruction of the Tawakalna Iraqi Republican Guard Division, on the 26 February 1991, by a simultaneous attack of the 1st and 3rd armoured divisions, the 1st Infantry Division, and the 2nd Armoured Cavalry Regiment.

The Umm Hajul controversy was one of many cases of fratricide committed during the Persian Gulf War. After American forces accidentally opened fire on their own men, a cover-up was attempted. A plot element of the movie Courage Under Fire was based on this particular incident.

Ground Combat Vehicle Tracked or wheeled armored fighting vehicles

The Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) was the United States Army's replacement program for armored fighting vehicles in Armored and Stryker brigade combat teams. The GCV was organized under the Follow On Incremental Capabilities Package of the BCT Modernization program. The first variant of the vehicle was to be prototyped in 2015 and fielded by 2017. It replaced the canceled Future Combat Systems, manned ground vehicles program. The Ground Combat Vehicle program was cancelled in February 2014. Its replacement was Next generation combat vehicle.

M3 Bradley Reconnaissance infantry fighting vehicle

The M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle (CFV) is an American tracked armored reconnaissance vehicle manufactured by BAE Systems Land and Armaments. A member of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle family, the M3 CFV is used by heavy armored cavalry units in the United States Army.

M2 Bradley American infantry fighting vehicle

The M2 Bradley, or Bradley IFV, is an American infantry fighting vehicle that is a member of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle family. It is manufactured by BAE Systems Land & Armaments, which was formerly United Defense.

July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrike Series of air-to-ground attacks conducted in New Baghdad during the Iraqi insurgency

The July 12, 2007, Baghdad airstrikes were a series of air-to-ground attacks conducted by a team of two U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters in Al-Amin al-Thaniyah, New Baghdad during the Iraqi insurgency which followed the Iraq War. On April 5, 2010, the attacks received worldwide coverage and controversy following the release of 39 minutes of gunsight footage by the Internet whistleblower website WikiLeaks. The footage was portrayed as classified, but the individual who leaked it, U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning, testified in 2013 that the video was not classified. The video, which WikiLeaks titled Collateral Murder, showed the crew firing on a group of men and killing several of them, then laughing at some of the casualties, all of whom were civilians, including two Reuters journalists. An anonymous U.S. military official confirmed the authenticity of the footage, which provoked global discussion on the legality and morality of the attacks.

General Dynamics Ajax Family of armoured fighting vehicles

The Ajax, formerly known as the Scout SV, is a family of armoured fighting vehicles being developed by General Dynamics UK for the British Army.