Tags: Army | Still | Needs | the | Crusader

Army Still Needs the Crusader

Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM

Before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's firm - and some say abrupt - decision Wednesday to ax it as a cumbersome relic of the Cold War, final assembly and firing of the cutting-edge Crusader mobile artillery was scheduled for Oklahoma near Fort Sill, home of the Army's artillery school.

And the White House warned Congress on Thursday against trying to save the Crusader.

"The Department of Defense has conducted a very careful and thorough review on the merits of the Crusader program, and they have come to the determination that it should not proceed, it should not be funded in the Congress," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

But that claim is not full true. Top Army brass have been pushing for new mobile artillery – and even tried to bypass Rumsfeld and Pentagon chiefs and appeal secretly to Congress. Numerous press reports have indicated that congressional interest is nothing more than pork barrel politics to help garner defense dollars in their districts.

But others say the Crusader is a desperately needed armament in a period when the U.S. may be engaged in traditional combat in the Mideast or Korea in the near future.

Nearly $2 billion has already been shot away on the $11 billion Crusader program since it began development as a replacement for the aging Paladin gun in 1994. The Army was slated to buy 480 Crusaders, planning to field them in 2008.

But critics of Rumsfeld's plan challenge that the reasons to forge ahead with Crusader have more bang than the reasons to kill it.

Both Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz are proponents of planning and preparing for future high-tech wars.

Wolfowitz lectures at Pentagon briefings that future battlefields require hardware that is "more mobile, lethal and deployable." The Crusader, which rolls along in two sections, the cannon and its resupply van (each tipping the scales at 40 tons), needs a big C-17 cargo plane to deploy it.

"This decision is not about any one weapon system, but really about a strategy of warfare," Rumsfeld said.

But such generalities are not proving satisfactory to critics of the program's dismantling, critics such as Loren B. Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute.

"So far, Rumsfeld has not made his case as to why killing the best artillery piece that was ever developed was necessary. This is really not a decision to cancel Crusader and buy something better. They don't know what something better is."

Wolfowitz answers the charge by saying that perhaps the Pentagon will accelerate development of new weapons systems, including the "Excalibur" precision-guided artillery shell.

But such weapons improvements could be years or a decade away.

But proponents maintain the rhetorical ammunition on the side of keeping the big gun moves past philosophy to pragmatics. Case in point: Some of the controversial talking points touting Crusader distributed recently to Congress by the Army lobby, much to the chagrin of Rumsfeld.

Without getting into the many virtues of the gun, the proponents first argue that the surgical removal of the Crusader disrupts critical long-term defense planning.

And then there are the simple pragmatics of the gun's performance characteristics:

Emphasis is on the word "precision," a perhaps backhanded indictment of the air-launched smart bombs that have caused the bulk of allied casualties in Afghanistan.

While the arguments to keep Crusader alive and well seem to hit the target, the sages of Army military transformation steadfastly boom the same refrain: $11 billion on an artillery system that was conceived around the premise of fighting a major ground war in Europe is better spent on more futuristic weapons technologies.

In the meantime, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., has summoned Rumsfeld to the Hill for testimony on the controversy next week, also inviting Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, a longtime fan of the Crusader.

Rumsfeld may have his own more specific talking points in order by that time.

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Before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's firm - and some say abrupt-decision Wednesday to ax it as a cumbersome relic of the Cold War, final assembly and firing of the cutting-edge Crusader mobile artillery was scheduled for Oklahoma near Fort Sill, home of the Army's...
Army,Still,Needs,the,Crusader
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2002-00-09
Thursday, 09 May 2002 12:00 AM
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