WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld killed the Pentagon's $11 billion Crusader artillery system Wednesday, saying that the money appropriated to the program can be better spent on more advanced weapons systems.
"After a good deal of consideration, I've decided to terminate the Crusader program," Rumsfeld said Wednesday.
Crusader is the 40-ton, fast-firing automated howitzer that was expected to go into use in 2008 but which critics say is too heavy for a mobile infantry. Rumsfeld wants to use the remaining $9 billion that hasn't been spent yet on the program for more precision weaponry, possibly including a satellite-guided 155mm projectile called the Excalibur, officials said.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill could insist that the program continue or it could remove funding altogether depending on what it wants the Pentagon to do with its military program. Some analysts say officials are concerned that too many near-term weapons programs are at risk of cancellation while longer-term technologies are not available yet, but Crusader is the first program formally to get the boot.
Rumsfeld said he is not concerned that Congress will upend his plans.
"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."
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.
Congress may be unwilling to kill the Crusader program since its development is an economic boost for states closely associated with the program, including Oklahoma, where it would be assembled.
Congressional members supporting the program now are in possession of documents — courtesy of Army personnel — that say without Crusader or an equivalent artillery system, soldiers in ground combat would be put at undue risk.
Earlier this week, it appeared that the fate of Army Secretary Thomas White had nearly been the same as the Crusader's. Someone on White's staff allegedly lobbied Congress to save the Crusader after Rumsfeld had made clear it would be killed and all fingers pointed to White.
White denied the charge and Rumsfeld said that White's job was never in jeopardy, though he is disappointed that White's staff was operating without his authority.
"Some individuals in the Army were way in the dickens out of line. It was not Secretary White, and he's advised me of that," Rumsfeld said Wednesday. "Someone with an overactive thyroid seemed to get his hands and his mouth ahead of his brain."
Still, both the White House and Rumsfeld have expressed support for White.
"The president has confidence in Army Secretary White," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "He thinks he's doing a good job in his post."
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."
For weeks White, a retired general and decorated Vietnam veteran, has been under political pressure as a result of contacts with Enron Corp. officials during the company's collapse last year. White headed Enron Energy Services, a subsidiary, before he became Army secretary.
White also is under investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general for his handling of personal business matters on trips involving Army jets.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.