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Artillery Battle: The Crusader Weapons System

June 19, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: This is the Crusader, a multibillion dollar army artillery piece designed to revolutionize ground warfare. The Crusader never has been fired in wartime, but it has set off one of the fiercest fights in decades between the Secretary of Defense, who wants to kill the big gun…

DONALD RUMSFELD: We’re going to cancel the Crusader.

KWAME HOLMAN: …And members of Congress, who want to save it.

SPOKESMAN: You haven’t even analyzed the alternatives. You don’t have an alternative. That chart is not an alternative.

KWAME HOLMAN: In a surprise announcement last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld zeroed out money for the Crusader program from the pentagon’s budget request. Since then, he’s raised the stakes. Rumsfeld says ending a Crusader program he views as outdated is a critical test of his ability to reshape the entire U.S. Military into a faster, lighter force ready to fight 21st century wars. He spoke on the NewsHour last month.

DONALD RUMSFELD: If you can’t do this one, then we’re not gong to be able to transform the armed forces of the United States, and we simply must do that.

KWAME HOLMAN: But a vast counterattack has been launched against Rumsfeld’s decision to kill the Crusader. The charge is being led by Republican lawmakers from Oklahoma, where the cannon would be assembled. Also fighting for the Crusader, in public and behind the scenes in Congress, is an industrial alliance comprising more than 100 contractors and suppliers who employ 2,200 people in 27 states, and a bevy of retired military officers.

GEN. JOHN TILELLI, Former Commander, U.S. Forces Korea: Crusader is a transformation system. Crusader is a system for the objective force, and it’s needed by our war fighting commanders, and if we had it today, we’d use it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Rumsfeld has been making his case at venues like this Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

DONALD RUMSFELD: It’s clear that continuing to fund a program we now know will not best meet the mission would be irresponsible and a misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.

KWAME HOLMAN: But when Rumsfeld was followed by the army’s top general, Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, he seemed to contradict his civilian boss.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: General, I think the fundamental question before us is: Do you, in your own personal professional opinion, believe that this system is essential for the future transformation of the United States Army?

GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI, Army Chief of Staff: The requirement is still there, yes, sir.

KWAME HOLMAN: A showdown is underway. The House of Representatives voted last month to require that the Pentagon make “no change to the Crusader development schedule.” While the Bush administration, though still in the midst of a war, promised the President would veto any military spending bill that includes Crusader funding.

Crusader was designed during the early 1990s. Its job is to provide massive covering firepower for the Army’s heavy mechanized units in battles against other modern armored forces. During the Gulf War, American state-of-the-art Abrams tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers raced through the Iraqi desert at top notch speeds. But the army’s 1960s-era self- propelled artillery, the Paladin, could not keep up. The Army spent $2 billion developing the Crusader as the answer. Plans call for spending another $9 billion to complete development and purchase of 480 Crusaders between 2004 and 2012. But the Crusader as originally designed weighed 60 tons. This early prototype, the only Crusader developed, is too heavy to transport rapidly by air.

Two years ago, the Army began to focus on building lighter, more mobile forces, United Defense– the Crusader’s manufacturer– redesigned Crusader to make it lighter. This animation depicts what a 40-ton Crusader– with its two resupply vehicles– would look like. It would be more deployable by air.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Our artillery is 1960s technology and it’s grossly out- branched by all the Soviet stuff, which many of our potential adversaries have. We simply had to upgrade. We knew that coming out of the Gulf War in 1992. That was the theory behind Crusader, a system that actually is a revolutionary change in capability.

KWAME HOLMAN: Retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, who is a consultant to the manufacturer, says the Crusader, with its automatic loading, liquid-cooled cannon, can drop 12 rounds per minute on targets 40 kilometers away. That’s a big improvement over the Army’s current Paladin artillery, which fires one round per minute to a maximum range of 30 kilometers. McCaffrey says the Crusader is now light enough to be deployed rapidly by air anywhere.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (Ret.): 40 tons puts two of them on an Air Force C-17, and they come off in the objective area to support the airborne operations. Four of these Crusaders cover the entire country of Bosnia.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS (Ret.): It’s utterly the wrong system for today’s United States Army, because no matter how good a system is, if you can’t Fed-Ex it, I mean, if it can’t get to the battlefield quickly, it’s meaningless.

KWAME HOLMAN: Lt. Colonel Ralph Peters had a 22 year career in the army. He has written several books about military affairs.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: We hear a great deal about Crusader having been reduced to 38 tons. Well, that’s still pretty heavy, but you also then have to add on the armored ammunition resupply vehicle, the fuelers, the infrastructure vehicles countered battery systems. So when you start with the whole package, it becomes ideal if we did have to fight armored mounted warfare again, but for most of the problems we are facing and will face we need lighter guns that can get there.

KWAME HOLMAN: The generals don’t even agree on whether the Crusader would have been helpful during the last major battle in Afghanistan.

GEN. ERIC SHINSEKI: In the first two days of Operation Anaconda, 28 of our 36 casualties were due to indirect fire from mortars. And it would have been in our interests to put together the capabilities to have turned those guns off, turn those mortars off. Crusader would have been capable of doing all of these.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command: Would it have been employed in anaconda if we had it? Candidly, I doubt it. I don’t think it would have. Given the characteristics of that particular fight, it probably wouldn’t have been there.

KWAME HOLMAN: The Bush Administration wants to shift the $475 million it originally planned to spend on Crusader next year, to what it hopes will be more promising precision artillery systems, such as this high-mobility artillery rocket system.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, Deputy Secretary of Defense: Changing the way that military forces operate is only partly a matter of equipment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz says the Pentagon’s civilian leaders want to change more than just the weapons they buy.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: In every case where there’s been a military revolution in the past, it’s involved changes in equipment, but also changes in organization, but also changes in the way people think. One example, which I think applies to this Crusader issue, is the changes in mind set that come when you have accurate munitions. When it comes to artillery, it’s still dumb, it’s still inaccurate. What we’re hoping to do with this decision of taking the money from Crusader and shifting it instead to much more accurate, much more rapid development of accurate artillery systems, is to get that ability to use artillery with precision we’ve never had before.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Wolfowitz is brilliant, he’s a patriot. I’ve worked with him for years. They’re wrong on the issue.

KWAME HOLMAN: Barry McCaffrey says the Crusader can fire accurate shells, as Secretary Wolfowitz wants, but precision isn’t everything. In battle, he says, the enemy’s location is not always known and a barrage of steel and fire on a general area sometimes is required.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: The nature of actual, confused, high intensity combat is we don’t know where the enemy is frequently. It’s not all a precision battle. It’s a suppression battle. We start getting pounded by 90 some odd artillery weapons, 100- plus mortars. We start putting suppressive fires, and we then fire and maneuver. So artillery has got to do a couple of things. One of them is give us cover, suppress enemy forces, fire counter battery. That’s what Crusader is prepared to do and it’ll do it reliably.

KWAME HOLMAN: According to Ralph Peters there is a generational split within the Army.

LT. COL. RALPH PETERS: The majority of junior officers don’t want Crusader; it’s the senior officers, who are wed to this once valid vision. A lot of the proponents of Crusader are these generals who won the Cold War and Desert Storm. They built that heavy military that served us so well in its time. They had a tremendous emotional bond with it. And, you know, it’s hard for all of us, especially when we get older, to let go of the past, the things we built so proudly or did so proudly.

KWAME HOLMAN: But Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th mechanized infantry division during the Gulf War, says America still needs to prepare for high-intensity warfare using heavy forces.

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: We also need to remind ourselves we’ve got to look at enemy capabilities and our potential to deter or carry out combat operations against the North Koreans, Syrians, Iraqis, defend Taiwan, defend Israel, where we have to seize ground or defend people. When it comes to high intensity when it comes to high intensity combat, it’s the Abrams-Bradley ground combat team backed up by artillery.

SPOKESMAN: I believe we will not end up saving a dime.

KWAME HOLMAN: Leading the Crusader crusade in the Senate is Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe. The Crusader was to have been built in his state by United Defense.

SEN. JAMES INHOFE: Yes, they’re talking about having an assembly plant in Elgin, Oklahoma. That’s because it’s next to Fort Sill, the artillery training area; a logical place for it. It’s great for our state. I’m glad they’re going to do that, but that isn’t a reason for my passion on this. My passion is we want to have a superior system, and we don’t have it; right now we’re inferior.

KWAME HOLMAN: Inhofe helped craft a senate proposal that aims to preserve the technologies developed for the Crusader while creating a lighter piece of artillery. In addition to the Crusader, there are a number of other big- ticket weapons systems that have been in development for more than a decade that might get scaled back. They include the Marine Corps’ Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, the Army’s stealthy Comanche helicopter, and the Air Force’s F-22. What happens to the Crusader may set the precedent for the Pentagon’s ability to win future cuts in as many as eight major weapons systems now in development and under review.

GWEN IFILL: This afternoon the Senate voted overwhelmingly to allow the Pentagon to terminate the Crusader and use the money to develop a lighter artillery system. That decision now goes to a conference committee with House members.