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United Defense goes on offense to save Crusader
by Sherri Cruz and Kevin Diaz
June 7, 2002

Mobility, high rate of fire, onboard radar system and triple the effectiveness of the existing system. These are just a few of the reasons the Crusader artillery system shouldn't be canceled, said Barry McCaffrey, retired four-star general and former Clinton administration drug czar.

"The Crusader has been branded as super-heavy, old pork barrel politics. . . . Nonsense," he said. "I expect an honest, decent debate on this issue."

McCaffrey, a professor of national security at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., argued passionately during a news conference Thursday at United Defense Industries' facility in Fridley, part of the company's effort to save its $11 billion contract to design and build the Crusader.

The Crusader artillery system, designed in Fridley, was to replace the Army's Paladin howitzer in 2008. The 42-ton system can fire 10 rounds a minute, compared with the Paladin's one round a minute.

But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has recommended canceling the program, saying Crusader isn't suited to 21st-century warfare and isn't consistent with President Bush's policy of transforming the military.

If the program is cut, more than 800 people could lose their jobs in Fridley as well as an additional 1,400 employees at Crusader subcontractors nationwide. About 32 other companies in Minnesota are subcontractors for the Crusader program, almost all of them in the Twin Cities suburbs.

In Washington
While McCaffrey spoke, a consortium of Crusader contractors held a similar news briefing in Washington. Minnesota's congressional delegation rallied behind Crusader as well. Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn, a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is pushing a provision requiring contract work to continue on the Crusader until Congress has had a chance to review the program.

The Washington supporters of Crusader included retired Army Gen. John Tilelli, a former Desert Storm commander and commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in Korea. "My view on the Crusader is solidly grounded in facts as well as cold, hard experience," said Tilelli, now president and CEO of Cypress International, a Virginia-based consulting company working with Crusader contractor United Defense Industries, which is based in Arlington, VA.

Tilelli said the need for the Crusader's accurate, long-range artillery was shown in Desert Storm, where "our 1960s-era artillery was outranged and could not keep up with our maneuver forces."

Adding to the defense industry's full-court press yesterday was Peter Cherry, vice president of Altarum, a Michigan research institute under contract to test the Crusader, who said the Crusader can be deployed by air and sea, with a rapid firing rate that replaces multiple conventional artillery guns. "Crusader-equipped forces have a much larger set of maneuver options," he said.

An odd pair
United Defense is part of consortium of 50 Crusader contractors in 28 states, a geographic distribution that provides the Crusader with significant support in Congress across ideological lines.

The Crusader conflict also has sparked an odd alliance: For once, antiwar groups such as Women Against Military Madness (WAMM) agree with the Bush administration, albeit for different reasons.

"It's insanity to spend $11 billion on a slightly better cannon when our schools are so desperate they are being privately funded," WAMM Director Jen Randolph Reise said in a prepared statement. "This is a flashy show that hides the fact that this program is unnecessary."

This was a rare appearance for McCaffrey. The Crusader, one of a number of weapons systems that have been canceled over the years, isn't even the first one canceled by the Bush administration. Last December, the Pentagon canceled a Navy program intended to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles. And some Pentagon programs have been canceled, only to be revived under a subsequent administration.

McCaffrey compared the fight for the Crusader to the battle over the controversial Bradley vehicle. It came within an inch of being canceled -- all because of a couple of bad stories and a handful of people who didn't like it, he said. "The only way we got it is because Congress stepped in," he said.

McCaffrey dismissed the notion that the number of wars will diminish, saying it's human nature. He said the U.S. is likely to attack Iraq within 18 months. North Korea is another threat, with chemical weapons and a million-man army. "On any given day they could be a menace to U.S. forces," he said. Another 20 nations possess nuclear or chemical weapons.

When it's time to fight, aircraft isn't going to do the job, he said. "At the end of the day, artillery is the dominant weapon on the battlefield," he said.

He said the problem with the Paladin is 1960s technology. "If we had Crusader in Afghanistan, would it have made a difference? Of course it would," he said.

Employees who design and engineer the Crusader at Fridley's Armament Systems Division don't understand why the program is being cut when they have stayed within budget and performed on schedule, said Mark Signorelli, deputy program director for the Crusader.

Only two people with the program have resigned since the cancellation decision was announced. "People have not started running for the door," he said. "But they all understand the risk." Fifty-fifty would be an optimistic appraisal of where we are."

-- Sherri Cruz is at scruz@startribune.com .
-- Kevin Diaz is at kdiaz@mcclatchydc.com .

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