Defense Contractor Told Army Heads About Crusader Nix

Top Army officials learned of the decision to cancel an $11 billion artillery gun from a defense contractor two weeks ago, hours before being told by Pentagon brass, an Army investigation found.

The inquiry by the Army's inspector general also found that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz agreed April 30 to Army Secretary Thomas White's plea to reconsider cutting the Crusader program.

After thinking about it, Wolfowitz told White the next morning that he had not changed his mind and Crusader was still on the chopping block, the report said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Friday he was satisfied with the outcome and did not think White had been disloyal for continuing to support the Crusader program after April 30.

White ordered the inquiry May 1, after an Army official gave House Armed Services Committee members a memo criticizing the decision to eliminate the high-tech, self-propelled howitzer. The official who distributed the memo, Kenneth A. Steadman, resigned last week.

The investigation blamed Steadman for handing out an unapproved memo that "contained inappropriate language and factual inaccuracies."

The Army inspector general released a copy of its report to The Associated Press Tuesday under the Freedom of Information Act. Officials blanked out about half of the 50-page document, saying the information was withheld to protect the identities and privacy of people who talked to investigators.

Rumsfeld, flanked by White, formally announced May 8 that he would kill the Crusader system, saying the $9 billion that would be spent on further development would be better used on other weapons. The inspector general investigation concluded White did not know about the memo Steadman distributed until hours after House members got it.

Originally planned to enter service in 2008, the Crusader fires as many as 10 to 12 155 mm shells per minute, with a range of more than 25 miles.

Opponents say the 40-ton Crusader is too big and expensive to fit with the Army's plans for a lighter, faster, more flexible force. Backers say the Army needs it to keep an edge over the militaries of potential rivals such as North Korea.

An investment firm chaired by Frank Carlucci, a defense secretary in the Reagan administration, owns United Defense Industries, the contractor that is to build the Crusader.

There had been speculation that White, who is under investigation for his contacts with former colleagues at the bankrupt Enron Corp., could have lost his job over the Crusader flap. But Rumsfeld said last week that White's support for the Crusader was appropriate because until May 8 the artillery gun was part of President Bush's proposed 2003 defense budget.

The inspector general's report gives new insight. When White met with Wolfowitz on April 30, the report said, White left with the impression that the final decision to cancel Crusader had not been made.

Wolfowitz also agreed to think about the decision the night of April 30 and talk to White again the morning of May 1, before the House Armed Services Committee was to take up the 2003 defense spending bill. Wolfowitz told White that morning that he had not changed his mind, however.

Meanwhile, the Army's vice chief of staff got a phone call and a fax the morning of April 30 from an unidentified defense contractor saying Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld planned to kill Crusader, the report said. Wolfowitz met with White more than eight hours later to deliver the news.

Before the House committee met May 1, a member of the Army's legislative liaison office prepared a set of "talking points" about the decision to cut the Crusader, the report said. The name of that official was blanked out of the report released to The AP.

The memo said Rumsfeld's office "is looking for a quick kill to demonstrate their political prowess and their commitment to (military) transformation."

"Killing a relatively small program -- $11 (billion) -- which is on time and on budget -- is much easier than killing more expensive programs with greater problems, such as (the Air Force's) F-22 (fighter) and (the Navy's) V-22 (hybrid helicopter-airplane)," the memo said.

The memo's author did not intend for it to be released publicly and Steadman acted on his own to do so, the inspector general's report said.