Planning for America’s next armed conflict is not an easy gig. Ideally, if you want to do it right, it takes a great knowledge of history and an uncanny ability to predict the future, which most war-planners seem to fail at.
Still, there are certain essentials that any would-be, wanna-be, could-be or actual Pentagon planner needs in order to have a shot at successfully getting our troops the gear and force structure they will need to battle Enemy X and live to talk about it.
Without further ado, for all Foxtrot Alpha readers out there, here’s the perfect gifts for Pentagon planners.
Don’t step into a room full of military scholars without having read what has become the quintessential study of war in the western world.
Clausewitz’s On War is the foundation on which any meditation on warfare should be based, especially when applying war as a political or foreign policy tool.
Even though this thing was written back in the early 1800s, and it has been translated many times, it holds up and may actually read more relevant now than ever. So if you want to understand war and its many relations to the human condition and our social constructions, start here.
The Documentary Fog Of War and the Documentary Unknown Known
Two super-controversial Defense Secretaries, two super-controversial wars. Each film stands alone, but because of their similar structure and relevance they go perfectly together.
The Fog Of War is an academy award winner for best documentary, and once you watch it, you will see why. The film features a deconstruction of Robert S. McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. A man who helped lead America into the depths of the Vietnam War. Decades before that he worked to turn the possibility of winning WWII into a cold mathematical equation and went on to run Ford in 1960.
Simply put, this is not only an absolutely necessary piece of historical record, it is also a unique perspective of a pivotal and somewhat misunderstood player in the history of modern warfare.
The Unknown Known runs along a similar format as the Fog of War, which makes sense because it was created by the same person, Errol Morris. Instead of looking at Vietnam’s controversial SecDef it examines Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom’s own controversial SecDef, Donald Rumsfeld.
It very much maps what seems like a descent into what eventually feels like bureaucratic madness, as Rumsfeld, the king of memos, seems to question everything, his eye more on the process of decision making than on the decisions themselves. It is simply riveting, and the man in question is right there on screen answering the questions in first person the whole time.
Skunk Works boss Ben Rich penned one hell of a yarn before dying of cancer in 1995. This man watched as famed aircraft designers put some of the famous aircraft into the sky, including the U-2 Spyplane and the SR-71 Blackbird. Rich would go on to do the same, revolutionizing the world of air combat with stealth technology.
The book takes you through many famous projects, and the breakthrough science alone was only half the battle in seeing them through to completion, navigating the Pentagon’s procurement process was the other.
In fact, some of the best parts of the book have to do more with the haggling and maneuvering needed to push programs through to production. In one of the last chapters, Rich tells it how it is and gives his ideas on how to fix the Pentagon’s weapon system procurement woes. It remains one of my favorite chapters in any military non-fiction book. He predicted a lot of what was to come and had some incredible ideas, especially considering he wrote them just as the internet was emerging.
An amazing must read for anyone who wants an insider’s view from the darkest reaches of the Defense Department’s weapons development ecosystem.
This HBO movie starring Kelsey Grammer was based on the book of the same name, but the film-comedy adaption proved incredibly capable of showcasing the Pentagon’s fallacies in an entirely unique way, through blunder and laughs. It’s amazing because it underlines just how sad and corrupt the process of fielding a new weapon systems can be.
The movie loosely follows the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but when watching many of the scenes, you would swear that you were sitting in on a meeting for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s design and development. In fact, this movie, made in the 1990s, is more relevant now than it was then, especially as the Pentagon tries to pare down its inventory of different weapon types with one-size-fits-all gold-plated designs that often are inferior to their predecessors in many ways.
In the end the The Pentagon Wars is really entertaining and it will also teach you something about how laughably broken the Defense Department procurement process really is.
If you like military aircraft and incredible aviation photography, then you better subscribe to Combat Aircraft Monthly. If you are interested in details about these weapon systems and their evolution, like any Pentagon planner should be, than you especially need to read this magazine regularly.
The best part is that you don’t have to wait for snail mail to deliver your copy anymore. I get the iPad tablet version that is available through the Apple App Store and it’s just fantastic.
Each issue features reports from around the world on different air arms and their various mounts, with great in-depth features and unique crew perspectives. Oh and did I mention the incredible photography?
Penned by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who went from entry-level CIA analyst to the Director Central Intelligence and served on the White House Staff of four Presidents, From The Shadows takes you through the wild espionage filled ride that was the Cold War.
Black operations, secret directives, first hand descriptions of key power players and the many ways the CIA has slowly hurt its own image over the decades, this book provides a “from the inside out” look at how the U.S. beat the Soviets from someone who was right there.
It is a must read because it showcases what the “other guys” over in Langley are capable of, and how their approach differs greatly from the “big military” mindset of solving foreign policy and even military objectives. Plus it is an incredible piece of history and is truly an amazing read.
From The Shadows is also probably a great pairing with Robert Gates’ most recent memoir, Duty, which recounts his time as Secretary of Defense for both presidents Bush and Obama, overseeing the most tumultuous time at the Pentagon since Vietnam. Buying both is probably the right way to go.
A true Pentagon planner’s office would not be complete without a carved wooden model of a weapon system that has some personal significance. It could simply be an aircraft they like, or a program they worked on, or even one that will remind them of what not to do when it comes to developing and then procuring America’s future weapon systems.
The B-2 is a good choice as its procurement challenges define the “death spiral” concept. The B-2’s procurement legacy is so feared within the Pentagon that America’s next stealth bomber, the Long Range Strike Bomber, was designed and chosen in such a way to avoid a death spiral at all costs.
Still, any vehicle will do just fine and Magellan Models has pretty much any type you can think of. This model of the USS Enterprise would look nice on just about anyone’s desk.
One of the most influential voices in modern combat was John Boyd. Not only was he an amazing pilot, he was a rebel who fought to save the very idea of what a fighter aircraft is, right as it was disappearing from many Pentagon planners’ minds. The F-15 and F-16 would not have been what they are today without his “energy maneuverability” theory and without his “Fighter Mafia” incessantly battling within the Pentagon to see that these aircraft remained formidable in a dogfight.
After fighting to keep at bay the un-maneuverable, super-complex, “missile truck” vision of what some thought a fighter aircraft should become, along with his theories on decision cycle management and maneuver warfare, Boyd remains a celebrated name among fighter pilots and military tacticians and historians alike.