WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday scoffed at the idea that the Army could have used an artillery gun like the prototype Crusader howitzer in Afghanistan.
Some members of Congress are trying to block Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the $11 billion Crusader program and redirect $9 billion in Crusader funding to other high-tech Army artillery programs. Rumsfeld told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that the Crusader, while an improvement over current artillery pieces, was still too big and cumbersome for the lighter, quicker Army of the future.
Rumsfeld said it was "a reach" to think that the Crusader could be used in a landlocked country like Afghanistan. He said transporting a battalion of 18 Crusaders and their associated ammunition, fuel and support vehicles would take 60 to 64 C-17s — or about half the fleet of the Air Force's huge cargo planes. Finding roads and bridges to handle the big self-propelled howitzers would be difficult as well, Rumsfeld said.
The Crusader's builders don't have a prototype of the slimmed-down, 40-ton version touted by the Army before Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the program earlier this year. And even that Crusader requires so much support that each one really would weigh 97 tons, Rumsfeld said.
The Crusader, which had been scheduled to be available in 2008, is designed to rain 155 mm shells on enemy forces more than 25 miles away. Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials say putting more money into new technologies such as enhanced rocket systems and satellite-guided artillery shells will give the Army better capabilities at the same time for the same money.
The House has approved a 2003 defense budget that includes $475 million for continued development of the Crusader.
The top Republican on the Senate Appropriations panel, Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, complained Tuesday that Rumsfeld's decision against the Crusader came just before the committee was to vote on its version of a 2003 defense budget plan, which included money for Crusader.
"I don't think it's fair to the president, the Army or the Congress ... to have that decision made so late," Stevens said.
Rumsfeld said there was no way to avoid the conflict because the timing of Pentagon budgeting decisions is so out of sync with congressional budget votes. The decision to cancel Crusader came during planning for the 2004 defense budget, Rumsfeld said.
"There just is no way I know of that we could make a decision and have it not land up here at an awkward moment," he said.