WASHINGTON – President Bush pressed his plan to cancel the Army's $11 billion Crusader artillery system by proposing to Congress new ways to spend the $475 million he initially sought for the program in the 2003 budget year.
Almost all of the money would be directed to advancing artillery and precision-strike weapons under the plan outlined by White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels and endorsed by Bush in a letter sent late Wednesday to Capitol Hill.
"This proposal will produce a substantial boost to the long-term capabilities of the Army, reflecting lessons learned from recent military operations where the accuracy and responsiveness of precision weapons have been critical," Daniels wrote Bush on May 17.
The Army would keep all $475 million, with 94 percent devoted to artillery and precision-strike efforts. The rest, nearly $29 million, would be spent on a new engine for the Abrams tank.
"I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed request for a ... budget amendment for the Department of Defense reflecting my decision to cancel the Army's Crusader artillery system," Bush wrote.
Congress is on recess this week for Memorial Day.
The Crusader was planned as a 40-ton, self-propelled cannon designed to rain 155 mm shells every six seconds on enemy forces. The only one built so far weighs 60 tons.
Critics contend it is too big and unwieldy to fit in with the Army's plans for a lighter, faster and more mobile force.
Supporters say it would save soldiers' lives by hitting enemy forces before they are within striking range of U.S. troops. Proponents include some powerful members of Congress, including Sen. Don Nickles, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Rep. J.C. Watts, chairman of the House Republican Conference. Both are from Oklahoma, where the Crusader would have been assembled.
Supporters question the value of proposed alternatives.
"Where is the analysis that says these alternatives meet the requirements and are affordable?" said Gary Hoitsma, spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. "We have a January memo from (Pentagon acquisition chief) Pete Aldridge that says why Crusader is so much better than these alternatives. We're confused as to what happened between January and now that's changed that."
The Army, which fought to keep the Crusader, has accepted the decision, Army Capt. Amy Hannah said Thursday. She recalled Army Secretary Thomas E. White's words of May 8, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced he would terminate Crusader: "The Army will work hard to execute that decision — period, full stop."
The Army still needs the ability to fire on enemies beyond the direct line of sight, she said, and is "working to satisfy that requirement through a variety of programs."
Under Bush's plan, $310 million of the $475 million would go to accelerate the Army's Future Combat System, which envisions using communications networks to connect airborne and ground-based weapons, manned and unmanned.
About $57 million would be used to develop prototypes of a precision attack missile, and $57.5 million for its command and control technology.
Quicker development of the Excalibur precision artillery projectile, a shell guided by the same type of global positioning satellite technology that guided many "smart" bombs dropped on Afghanistan, would get $48 million.
Such shells could be fired from modified versions of current 155mm artillery guns and would be accurate within about 10 yards of their target, compared with more than 370 yards for current 155mm shells, Michael Wynne of the Pentagon's procurement office said recently.
In addition, they could have a range of more than 35 miles, compared with Crusader's projected range of more than 25 miles, enabling artillery units to be stationed safely behind mountains or other barriers while firing rounds that destroy enemy positions, he said.
Separately, $45 million would go to the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, a battery of precision rockets mounted on a tank-like vehicle, with a firing range of more than 35 miles and Excalibur's accuracy.
Defense spending bills for 2003 approved by the full House and the Senate Armed Services Committee included the $475 million the administration originally sought for Crusader.
The House bill contains nonbinding instructions that the administration not cancel the Crusader until it completes a report on alternatives, while the Senate panel postponed any such action until it heard from Rumsfeld.
At a May 16 hearing, senators expressed annoyance that after extensive Pentagon lobbying for Crusader, the department reversed course just as Congress was acting on the 2003 budget.
Rumsfeld said the decision was based on a need to spend wisely by investing in technologies for new styles of warfare.
The committee is to decide whether to propose a Crusader amendment when the defense bill reaches the Senate floor, said Kathleen Long, spokeswoman for the committee chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.