Pentagon Cancels Army Weapon System
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon on Wednesday announced the death of the Crusader artillery system, an $11 billion weapon project highly prized by the Army but derided by critics as a Cold War relic.
``After a good deal of consideration, I’ve decided to terminate the Crusader program,″ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference.
It marked the first cancellation of a major weapons program by Rumsfeld, although some others, including the Marine Corps’ V-22 Osprey hybrid helicopter-airplane, are said to be in jeopardy.
Some in Congress have vowed to fight for Crusader. Lawmakers could block the administration from removing Crusader funds from the defense budget, but it’s not clear that will happen.
Rumsfeld had made clear last week that he intended to cancel Crusader and he asked the Army to suggest other ways the project’s money could be spent on more advanced weapons technologies.
The Crusader is a 40-ton, self-propelled, rapid-fire cannon that was to have entered service by 2008. The Army argued that it was badly needed to replace the existing Paladin artillery system, which is more than 40 years old and is inferior to heavy artillery used by China, North Korea and others.
The debate over Crusader is emblematic of tensions between the military and their civilian overseers on the difficult question of how, and in what form, the nation’s armed forces should adapt to meet post-Cold War challenges. The military is wary of giving up too much in near-term modernization for the sake of investing in technologies that may not become available for a decade or more.
``This is a good choice,″ Rumsfeld said. ``We will see it through to the end.″
Wednesday’s announcement brought to a climax an unusually public battle between the Army and Rumsfeld’s office, which earlier this week appeared to put Army Secretary Thomas White in jeopardy of being fired.
White and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spoke to reporters after Rumsfeld made his announcement, and White was adamant that the Army would support the decision to kill Crusader.
``The secretary has made a decision and the Army will work hard to execute that decision _ period, full stop,″ White said.
Some in Congress whose states stand to benefit from Crusader funds have vowed to fight Rumsfeld’s decision to cancel, but many private analysts believe Rumsfeld stands a good chance of prevailing.
The Army has spent about $2 billion so far on Crusader; the $9 billion in unspent funds will be used for other weapons projects.
Rumsfeld said he was confident he would prevail on Capitol Hill.
``I’ve never seen a decision made that receives unanimous approval or unanimous opposition,″ he said. ``In this case I think it’s very clear we will be successful with regard to the decision. I can understand the concern.″
On Tuesday the White House and Rumsfeld exonerated White, although an internal Army investigation of the alleged lobbying was continuing. Officials said the inquiry could be wrapped up Wednesday.
Rumsfeld said Tuesday that someone on White’s staff was ``way in the dickens out of line,″ and that he would await the investigation’s findings before taking action. He appeared to rule out punishing White, the Army’s top civilian official.
``I certainly have confidence in Secretary White,″ Rumsfeld said.
President Bush’s spokesman echoed that sentiment.
``The president has confidence in Army Secretary White,″ Ari Fleischer said at the White House. ``He thinks he’s doing a good job in his post.″
In a private show of support Tuesday morning, Rumsfeld sent White a newspaper that contained a front-page story indicating White was likely to be fired. Rumsfeld attached a stick-on note to White that read, ``All baloney,″ or words to that effect, according to an official who saw it.
Rumsfeld left open the possibility of taking action against someone below White’s rank.
``The task is to find out the facts,″ he said. ``And it isn’t a matter of ready, shoot, aim. It’s ready, aim, fire _ and we’re still in the aiming business.″
At issue is who in the Army initiated contacts with members of Congress to undermine Rumsfeld’s push to cancel the Crusader. The Army appeared to have been enlisting political support to defeat Rumsfeld’s objective, which is to spend the $9 billion Crusader money on more advanced technologies.
Bush put $475 million for the Crusader in his proposed 2003 defense budget, and the House Armed Services Committee added language to the budget bill last week that would prevent Rumsfeld from spending it elsewhere. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to do the same.
Briefly addressing the matter in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rumsfeld said he understood that his decision to cancel the Crusader was subject to Congress’ review.
``You bet. That’s the way it works,″ he said.