The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It

The Pentagon LabyrinthTen Short Essays to Help You Through It aims to help both newcomers and seasoned observers learn how to grapple with the problems of national defense.  Intended for readers who are frustrated with the superficial nature of the debate on national security, this handbook takes advantage of the insights of ten unique professionals, each with decades of experience in the armed services, the Pentagon bureaucracy, Congress, the intelligence community, military history, journalism and other disciplines.  The short but provocative essays will help you to:

  • identify the decay – moral, mental and physical – in America’s defenses,
  • understand the various “tribes” that run bureaucratic life in the Pentagon,
  • appreciate what too many defense journalists are not doing, but should,
  • conduct first rate national security oversight instead of second rate theater,
  • separate careerists from ethical professionals in senior military and civilian ranks,
  • learn to critique strategies, distinguishing the useful from the agenda-driven,
  • recognize the pervasive influence of money in defense decision-making,
  • unravel the budget games the Pentagon and Congress love to play,
  • understand how to sort good weapons from bad – and avoid high cost failures, and
  • reform the failed defense procurement system without changing a single law.

The handbook ends with lists of contacts, readings and Web sites carefully selected to facilitate further understanding of the above, and more.

Press / reviews:

Download the whole book in .pdf format, or find individual essays and supplemental materials below. You may also purchase a copy of the book on Amazon.com.


Table of Contents

  1. Why is this Handbook NecessaryFranklin C. Spinney
  2. Penetrating the Pentagon. George Wilson
  3. Learning about Defense. Bruce I. Gudmundsson
  4. Congressional Oversight. Willing and Able or Willing to Enable? Winslow T. Wheeler
  5. Careerism. Col. GI Wilson, USMC, ret.
  6. Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight: A Primer for Assessing Defense Strategy in the post-Iraq World. Col. Chet Richards, USAF, ret.
  7. Follow the Money. Andrew Cockburn
  8. Decoding the Defense Budget. Winslow T. Wheeler
  9. Evaluating Weapons: Sorting the Good from the Bad. Pierre M. Sprey
  10. Developing, Buying and Fielding Superior Weapon Systems. Thomas Christie

Materials Cited:

Essay #1: Why is this Handbook Necessary? Franklin C. Spinney

  1. “Genghis John.”  Proceedings of the U. S. Naval Institute. July 1997, pp. 42-47.
  2. Statement before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, Committee on Government Reform, US House or Representatives. June 4, 2002.
  3. The New QDR: The Pentagon Goes Intellectually AWOL. CounterPunch. February 2010.
  4. The JSF: One More Card in the House. Proceedings of the Naval Institute. August 2000.
  5. Defense Death Spiral, September 1998.
  6. Porkbarrels & Budgeteers: What Went Wrong with the Defense Review. September, 1997.
  7. Defense Time Bomb; Background: F-22/JSF Case Study Hypothetical Escape Option. March 1996.
  8. Three Reasons Why the ATF Should Not Be Approved for Engineering and Manufacturing Development. July 23, 1991.
  9. Defense Power Games. October 1990.
  10. Defense Facts of Life, 1980.
  11. Shape Up and Fly Right: How to Build a Better Air Force for Less Money,1989


Essay #4: Congressional Oversight. Willing and Able or Willing to Enable? Winslow T. Wheeler

  1. The Week of Shame: Congress Wilts as the President Demands an Unclogged Path to War


Essay #6: Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight: A Primer for Assessing Defense Strategy in the post-Iraq World. Col. Chet Richards (USAF, ret.)

  1. If We Can Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration
  2. Shattering Illusions: A National Security Strategy for 2009-2017

Essay #8: Decoding the Defense Budget. Winslow T. Wheeler

  1. 1985 Military Reform Caucus Study
  2. 2011 Straus Military Reform Project Study on DOD Inflation
  3. Air Force Cost per Flying Hour Data

Essay #9: Evaluating Weapons: Sorting the Good from the Bad. Pierre M. Sprey

  1. Systems Analysis Problems of Limited War
  2. M-16 Rifle Case Study
  3. Notes on Close Air Support
  4. Combat Effectiveness Considerations in Designing Close Support Fighters
  5. Coming to Grips with Effectiveness in Rifles
  6. Promise and Reality: Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air-To-Air Combat
  7. “Nothing’s too good for our boys!” — Why Can’t DOD give us Quality and Quantity?
  8. Comparing the Effectiveness of Air-to-Air Fighters: F-86 to F-18
  9. Small Arms Weapons Systems Analysis: A Review and Evaluation
  10. Comparing the Effectiveness of Current Tanks
  11. The Terrible Cost of Not Testing with Real Weapons, Shooting at Real Targets
  12. Today’s OT&E: Abuses and Remedies
  13. The Evaluation of Small Arms Effectiveness Criteria: Volume 1


Essay #10: Developing, Buying and Fielding Superior Weapon Systems. Thomas Christie

  1. Paper on Oversight from DSB Task Force on Acquisition Streamlining


Suggested Readings, Links, Organizations and Contacts

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