- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2002

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced the termination of the Army's Crusader self-propelled cannon yesterday, setting the stage for a fierce struggle with members of Congress who vow to rescue the $11 billion system.
"After a good deal of consideration, I have decided to terminate the Crusader program," Mr. Rumsfeld said. It marked the first time he has killed a major weapon system to carry out President Bush's order to skip a generation of weaponry in favor of advanced war-fighting technology.
It was the ongoing war against terrorists and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan that illustrated why the 155 mm howitzer may not be a system with a future. Virtually all the firepower in the war has come from air-dropped precision munitions, not the Army's staple of heavy artillery and tanks.
Mr. Rumsfeld made it clear he expects Army Secretary Thomas White to back the decision. The retired Army general waged a last-ditch fight inside the Pentagon to save the 40-ton Crusader.
But he could not overcome recommendations from Mr. Rumsfeld's top advisers, policy-maker Stephen Cambone and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. They are spearheading a drive to transform the military and want the Army to look at a lighter, more accurate firing system. Army generals argue that soldiers are now outgunned by large artillery arsenals in the armies of potential enemies.
"Secretary White was supporting the president's budget and the Crusader was part of that president's budget, until it wasn't," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon press conference. "And today it no longer is."
Mr. White and Mr. Wolfowitz followed Mr. Rumsfeld to the podium. The Army secretary promised support. "First thing is that the secretary has made a decision, and the Army will work hard to execute that decision, period, full stop," Mr. White said.
Mr. Rumsfeld predicted eventual victory in Congress: "I think that when the dust settles, that we'll find that the Crusader has been ended and some alternative approaches to develop greater precision munitions and to meet the requirements that appropriately do need to be met will, in fact, be the outcome."
But that confident prediction of victory was challenged by the Crusader's strong backers in Congress.
Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican, called Mr. Rumsfeld's decision "unilateral and misguided" and predicted it "will be resisted by Congress." The Crusader would be built, beginning next year, in Mr. Watts' district by United Defense, creating about 150 jobs. The new weapon would also bolster the case for maintaining Fort Sill, the Army's artillery school also located in Mr. Watts' district.
Mr. Bush backed the crusader in his fiscal 2003 budget presented to Congress just three months ago. Mr. Watts used that fact to persuade the House Armed Services Committee last week to vote to keep the program funded.
"Congress authorizes, appropriates, and legislates, regardless of the latest fad within [the Defense Department]" Mr. Watts said. "We will fully fund the president's existing budget request."
In the Senate, Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, worked to put the same language in the Senate Armed Services version of the bill.
"We totally disagree with the Pentagon's action today," said spokesman Gary Hoitsma. The committee is expected to vote today on Mr. Inhofe's amendment.
Historically, it has been difficult for the Pentagon to kill job-producing weapons systems. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney tried to cancel the Marine Corps' V-22 Osprey 12 years ago. The tilt-rotor aircraft is still in production today and still undergoing flight tests to determine whether it is combat worthy.
Mr. Rumsfeld's announcement came one week after Mr. Wolfowitz informed Mr. White that one of the Army's most coveted new weapons was headed for extinction. That meeting set the stage for a flap over whether Army congressional liaison officials went behind Mr. Rumsfeld's back to lobby for the Crusader.
The prime piece of evidence was a "talking points" documents that accused the Pentagon of putting soldiers at risk by killing Crusader. An ongoing Army investigation has cleared Mr. White of any involvement in drafting or distributing the document. It was faxed to House aides by an Army civilian official in legislative affairs, sources said.


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