Washington Times
Opinion Page

May 31, 2002

Bring back the Crusader system

Barry McCaffrey

    The Department of Defense's cancellation of Crusader is a madcap, thoughtless effort to junk a needed weapon system by branding it as "Cold War" and "pork."

    However, experienced combat leaders strongly support full fielding of the Crusader artillery system to the Army. I asked CEO Tom Rabaut of United Defense LP to let me work as a consultant with his team in the coming months to explain the enormous contribution that this technologically powerful weapon will make to our ground combat capability. The perspective I bring to this debate is one of a battle leader with four combat tours. I have been wounded in combat three times. My son is an infantry major. We need this weapon.

    Crusader will give us long-distance (50 kilometers) precision engagement with the most rapid-fire artillery weapon in history. The system is crewed by three soldiers with an enormous computerized, automated firing capability that can put more than six rounds simultaneously on a distant target. Two Crusaders can be loaded on a C17 and flown into a remote base to emerge immediately ready to fire.

    This weapon will deliver Excalibur precision munitions to a distant target or fire high explosives, smoke, incendiary, illumination, or other munitions in close proximity to a U.S. infantry unit trapped in violent, close combat — even those engaging possibly hundreds of enemy attackers.

    These enemy forces may be attacking in the dark and during raging storms where U.S. air power cannot effectively provide close air support. The Crusader will also reach out and engage multiple enemy artillery or mortar weapons that might be hammering U.S. forces or innocent civilians. The Crusader artillery rounds can respond to enemy fire and be on target in minutes.

    This Crusader artillery weapon also has triple the effectiveness of the current U.S. artillery. In addition, Crusader is the first artillery system in the world with the mobility to keep up with the Abrams tank moving at nearly 50 kph across rough terrain in the dark.

    Congress should exercise its right to field and equip the Army with this vital Crusader weapon system. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are brilliant men and dedicated to transforming the armed forces. However, they are wrong on this issue. In addition, the Department of Defense decision process has been bypassed. The Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC), the Defense Acquisitions Board (DAB) and the Joint Chiefs did not adequately consider this unilateral and unwise decision.

    We have spent nearly $2 billion getting Crusader ready to go into battle. In the coming decade, we may have to fight the North Koreans with their 10,300 artillery weapons, or the Iraqis with 2,100 guns, or fight in a heavy enemy air defense environment, where B52s cannot do Joint Direct Attack Munition close air-support missions in daylight loiter patterns over U.S. forces.

    We almost lost the superb Bradley Fighting Vehicle to goofy thinking just as it was being fielded in the late 1980s. Thankfully, Congress stayed firm. Our ground fighting forces now need the Crusader's cutting-edge technology. The Army also needs Crusader because it is fast and much lighter than the U.S. and enemy battle tanks whose battle environments it will operate in.

    Most of my adult life has been spent studying, training or carrying out combat operations. In my judgment, the Army must keep a balanced, lethal ground and aviation capability as part of the joint force. Crusader is one of three central pillars of this transformed Army.

    Barry McCaffrey was U.S. national drug policy director, commander of the U.S. Southern Command and adviser to Colin Powell at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.