Army considers deep cuts in weapons programs

New chief of staff wants leaner, more mobile fighting force

November 11, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In an effort to fund a leaner, more lethal and mobile U.S. Army for the 21st century, Army officials are proposing to cut more than $10 billion from the Crusader heavyweight artillery gun system and kill other programs, including two missile systems, Pentagon sources said.

The largest cut would come from the Crusader, a self-propelled howitzer. The Army would cut the $22 billion program in half, producing 500 of the systems rather than about 1,200 as originally planned, the sources said, requesting anonymity.

The Army is also attempting to kill new versions of the Stinger missiles and the Army's Tactical Missile System. In addition, the Army would eliminate a high-tech armored vehicle that allows Army commanders to direct a battle. Officials had no immediate estimate of the potential savings.

Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told defense reporters yesterday that it would cost "billions" of dollars to begin funding his new vision for the Army, though he was silent on a firm figure or where he would find the savings. "Everything's on the table," he said.

But in meetings this week with top Pentagon officials, the Army is laying out budget cuts that are certain to draw anguished cries from defense contractors and their supporters on Capitol Hill. The Army would need approval from both the Pentagon and lawmakers to put the cuts into effect.

"To me, the Crusader is a necessary vehicle for the Army," said Sen. James M. Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee. And while the artillery system is slated to be assembled in his state, "it's not a parochial issue with me," said Inhofe. "The performance is what's important."

Inhofe said the answer is not to cut the Crusader but to increase the $280 billion defense budget.

Slated for deployment in 2004, the Crusader has been the top target because of its cost and its bulky, 110-ton size when coupled with its supply vehicle. Some say the Crusader is not in keeping with Shinseki's vision of the new Army, a leaner, more mobile force that could quickly respond to anything from peacekeeping missions to full-scale wars.

While some units are too armor-bound to move quickly, others are agile but lack needed firepower. Though Shinseki said it will take more than a decade to change the 10-division Army, he is preparing to start with smaller-scale experimental units at Fort Lewis, Wash. Two brigades there will start training this year with prototype equipment and could be ready for missions within three years.

The Army's top officer also wants to transfer 8,000 soldiers from headquarters and support units to the combat divisions, which are short of people.

Shinseki told reporters he has a "gut" belief that the 479,000-soldier Army does not have enough soldiers to meet the expanded needs of peacekeeping and fighting. He and other service chiefs have long said that while the military has been cut nearly 40 percent since the end of the Cold War, missions have quadrupled.

But the general said he wants to shift soldiers to the divisions and beef up recruitment before he asks for increases in the Army's strength, now capped at 480,000 by Congress.

Shinseki also confirmed a report in the Washington Post that two of the 10 Army divisions are ill-prepared to fight a major war because of peacekeeping commitments in the Balkans.

Commanders of the 10th Mountain Division and the 1st Infantry Division have reported the lowest readiness rating for their divisions, which are split between home bases and the Balkans.

Shinseki said he was "concerned" by the commanders' reports and attributed the problem to personnel shortages and the difficulty these divisions have in quickly regrouping at a home base and heading to a major war.

"The folks that are most challenged are the ones who have the deployment missions and are split-based, like the 1st Infantry and the 10th Mountain," he said. "We'll get into it with them and see what corrections need to happen."

Republicans in Congress said the reports confirm their fears that the Clinton administration is spending too little on defense and deploying too many troops on questionable missions.

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