- The Washington Times - Friday, June 14, 2002

The Senate Armed Services Committee last night backed, in part, President Bush's desire to kill the Army's Crusader artillery system, voting 13-6 to remove $475 million in funding from the 2003 defense bill.

The vote came on an amendment by Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, to delete the funding. The amendment included something the White House does not want: authorization for the Army to study alternatives to the Crusader. The Pentagon cannot spend the $475 million on other uses until the study has been completed.

Pentagon civilians do not want additional studies. They have already decided the alternatives will be a mix of new munitions and an armored vehicle called the Future Combat System (FCS).

But administration officials last night called the vote a win. Even some Crusader advocates voted for the amendment in the face of likely defeat, either on the Senate floor or through a promised presidential veto.

The House has voted to continue Crusader funding. But a Senate-House standoff may be avoided: The committee vote came as Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a key Crusader backer, was holding private discussions with the Pentagon on a compromise.

Under the deal, Oklahoma's congressional delegation would win Army assurances that the FCS would be tested at Fort Sill in their home state, according to two defense sources. Fort Sill was to be the test center for the Crusader.

Mr. Bush's decision to follow a recommendation by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to terminate the Crusader had faced stiff resistance in Congress, especially from Republican members. Mr. Bush says the 40-ton, $11 billion artillery no longer fits into his plans for a lighter, more mobile armed forces.

The White House has threatened to veto any defense bill that contains continued Crusader funding. But it wants to avoid that step, especially when the country is at war.

The Pentagon and the White House have searched for a deal that would end the dispute and make peace with two Republican stalwarts: Mr. Inhofe and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, a Republican House leader.

Under a deal, each party would get a benefit. Mr. Bush would win the day on terminating his first major weapon system as a symbol of commitment to military transformation; Oklahoma would win continued activity at Fort Sill; and United Defense Industries Inc., the Crusader's prime contractor, would win work transferring Crusader technologies to the FCS.

A Pentagon document delivered yesterday to the committee spells out the switch.

The document is a set of answers to questions submitted to Edward C. Aldridge Jr., the Pentagon's acquisition chief, by Mr. Levin and Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the panel's ranking Republican.

The Pentagon document states: "Perhaps the most compelling reason to terminate the current Crusader contract is precisely because we intend to transition Crusader technologies to the Future Combat System on an accelerated [basis]. The Army and the contractor appear to be in agreement that this is the most expeditious way to proceed."

The FCS is a family of vehicles designed to provide artillery fire, smart munitions, infantry transportation and battlefield sensors. The 20-ton wheeled armored platform would carry guns capable of attacking a wide range of targets. The vehicle is being designed for Army units later this decade.

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