- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

Senior Pentagon officials have decided to terminate the Army's next-generation artillery piece, but are facing a stiff fight from the Army and its supporters in Congress.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz on Tuesday accepted his staff's recommendation to kill the Crusader self-propelled howitzer. It would mark the first time the Pentagon has canceled a major weapons system to carry out President Bush's order to transform a Cold War force into a 21st-century war machine.

But later that day, when Mr. Wolfowitz informed Army Secretary Thomas White, the Army chief protested vehemently. Mr. White, a retired Army general and decorated Vietnam War combatant, has argued the Army is outgunned in artillery and needs the Crusader to replace the aging Paladin system.

"White called his bluff," said a source close to the battle. "That's why they're reconsidering all this stuff."

"There's a battle going on and it's not over with," said Gary Hoitsma, spokesman for Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and a robust Crusader backer.

Mr. Hoitsma said the senator and Mr. White spoke Tuesday night. "We called White, and he called back and told the senator he was involved in a fight to save the Crusader because it was an important part of the president's defense budget program and the fight was ongoing," the spokesman said.

Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and House Armed Services Committee member, issued a blunt statement warning the Pentagon of a fight.

"I am prepared to use the full force and every resource of my office to make sure our soldiers have the tools needed to win not just to play a good game," said Mr. Watts, who is chairman of the House Republican Conference. "Crusader is critical to our U.S. Army and artillerymen."

Oklahoma is home to Fort Sill, the Army's artillery school, whose status would be bolstered by the addition of the new 155 mm cannon. The Army wants to buy 480 of the tracked and wheeled Crusaders for $11 billion. Production would begin next year.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declined to say yesterday whether he has decided to cancel the Crusader.

Pentagon officials said "talking points" have been drafted on how to explain the termination on Capitol Hill.

The Crusader's cancellation would be a victory for Stephen Cambone, one of the Pentagon's most powerful policy-makers. Mr. Cambone, who is principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, wants a number of system cuts besides the Crusader. He suggests the Air Force should reduce its purchase of 339 F-22 stealth fighters, is skeptical of the Army's developing Comanche helicopter and early on pushed for eliminating two active Army divisions.

Defense officials acknowledged privately the Crusader battle comes at an awkward time just three months after the Pentagon asked Congress to continue funding the weapon. The House Armed Services Committee this week is writing its fiscal 2003 defense bill and the Senate Armed Services Committee writes its bill next week.

Mr. Rumsfeld's senior staff has been eyeing a number of weapons for cancellation as both symbolic and practical measures to prepare the military for newer threats, such as terrorism, paramilitary groups and cyber-warfare.

Through the 2001 review, the Crusader survived as the Army trimmed it from 60 tons to 40 tons so two could fit on long-range transport jets. But as planners looked out to the next five years and saw the billions of dollars due for new weapons, it became apparent that some systems had to be reduced or eliminated.

Officials said the Crusader became the top candidate. Mr. Rumsfeld's staff "view it as a Cold War weapon," said an Army official. "An old-think approach to warfare."

Mr. Cambone and other civilian policy-makers argue that a large volume of firepower, such as unleashed by the Crusader, is not as important in today's conflicts. Accurate munitions, such as satellite- and laser-guided bombs, can knock out advancing troops and enemy encampments. In the war in Afghanistan, for example, no artillery has been used. Virtually all firepower has come from heavy bombers, tactical aircraft and attack helicopters.

But Mr. White, and Gen. Eric Shinseki, Army chief of staff, argued that possible battlefields, such as the Korean Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, still require heavy artillery.

"In the whole 40 years I've been around the Army, the Army has been outgunned artillerywise," Mr. White said in an interview last month. "The president's grandfather was a World War I artilleryman. And if the president's grandfather got in the back end of the Paladin, he'd be right at home. It is time to move on."

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