WASHINGTON - Having decided to cancel the Crusader artillery system, the Pentagon plans instead to speed the development of precision-guided artillery rounds and rockets and to upgrade an artillery system the Army has been using for 40 years, an official said yesterday.
Michael Wynne, a Pentagon acquisition official, said the $9 billion set aside for the Crusader would be shifted into other Army weaponry. The money will allow the systems to be delivered earlier - some by 2008, when the Crusader howitzer was scheduled for delivery.
Last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced plans to cancel the 40-ton Crusader, a mobile, long-range precision gun. Rumsfeld described the Crusader as too heavy to serve the Army's proposed faster, lightweight units.
But some lawmakers and Army officers oppose the plan to scrap the Crusader and doubt that the alternatives would deliver the same accurate long-range firepower. A total of $2 billion has been spent on the Crusader, which began development in the mid-1990s.
The House has passed a defense bill for the next fiscal year that includes $475 million for the Crusader, defying Rumsfeld's orders to cancel it. The Senate Armed Services Committee is considering similar action and has scheduled a hearing with Rumsfeld today to hear his reasons for killing the Crusader.
"We are prioritizing precision," Wynne said. "We have asked the Army to come forward with a plan to essentially reinvigorate all these programs."
Among the systems suggested for acceleration are the Excalibur precision artillery shell, scheduled for delivery in 2013. Officials will instead try to field that system by 2006.
The Pentagon also plans to accelerate two upgrades of Army rockets and will push ahead with a missile system - known as NetFires and in development - that can be packed into a Humvee.
The missile has a range of about 36 miles, a distance that exceeds that of any artillery system, including the Crusader, whose range is about 25 miles. Wynne said the Pentagon would push for a 2008 deployment for NetFires, which had been scheduled for delivery in 2013.
At the same time, Wynne said, the Pentagon plans to upgrade the Army's Paladin artillery system, in use since the 1960s, with precision-guided weapons and better communications and targeting ability. He said he was uncertain of a date for the Paladin upgrade.
Wynne said the Pentagon plans to use some of the technology developed for the Crusader, such as a cooled cannon and a digitized firing system, in the Future Combat System, a lightweight armored vehicle that the Army plans to field in 2008.
The Army is working on alternatives to the Crusader and is to deliver the plan to Pentagon officials by Monday. But an Army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity questioned Wynne's proposal. He said none of the alternatives could fire as rapidly or as accurately as the Crusader.
"The whole point is to be able to provide close fire support," the officer said.
Army rockets require a safety zone more than a half-mile wide between friendly troops and the enemy. By contrast, artillery can be used within 60 to 70 yards of friendly forces and is far more effective when enemy troops are closing in.
The Paladin artillery, even with planned upgrades, would not provide the needed rate of fire, the officer said. It could shoot up to four rounds a minute, compared with up to 12 for the Crusader.