A Costly Monument to the Old Cold War
In America where bigger means better, it's puzzling that the Defense Department would eliminate the Crusader artillery system, the largest, most advanced artillery system ever.
The gun meets all the criteria for America's next generation of pointless weapons. It's technologically wonderful, inordinately expensive, and backed by powerful defense industry lobbyists and their politicians. In an industry some claim is dominated by "boys and their toys," the Crusader is impressive. A self-propelled 155-mm howitzer, the 40-ton Crusader outwardly resembles a tank, although it has far more firepower. It lobs shells up to 25 miles; ten 100-pound shells a minute for three minutes, followed by three to six rounds a minute; six thousand pounds in less than 20 minutes. It can fire eight shells at different elevations and velocities to arrive at the same time.
Each Crusader comes with its own resupply vehicle, which will make it the first fully automated ammunition and fuel loading system in the world, capable of complete resupply in under 12 minutes. And it's fast. Utilizing the same 1,500-horsepower engine as America's main Abrams tank, the Crusader will reach 42 mph on the highway and 30 mph cross-country.
In keeping with the Army's reliance on technology, a crew of three will operate the Crusader from user-friendly computers in a sealed, temperature-controlled compartment. The sophisticated computer-operated gun will take orders from a console, radar, remotely piloted vehicles, aerial surveillance or other reconnaissance systems. Only physical maintenance requires the involvement of the crew.
These performance profiles come from projections. Despite spending $2 billion, the Army does not have a prototype. They want another $9 billion to deploy 800 Crusaders by 2008, but the project may never see the light of day.
Arguing that the United States needs a leaner, more agile military, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld wants to divert money from the Crusader to the Air Force's F-22 fighter ($85 million each). Opponents claim the Crusader was designed for a land war with Russia -- an outdated strategy in today's world where threats come from terrorists, but Rumsfeld faces stiff opposition.
The Oklahoma congressional delegation is throwing its muscle behind appropriations to keep the Crusader alive. Representatives include archconservative Rep. J.C. Watts, Jr., chair of the House GOP conference, and Sen. Don Nickles, assistant Republican leader. They support the program because the assembly would occur in United Defense Industries' Elgin, Oklahoma, plant, although parts of the system would be manufactured in a dozen other states. United Defense is part of the Carlyle Group, which donated $461,000 to politicians in 2000. With this type of support, the Crusader may be kept alive.
Some observers claim Rumsfeld's decision to kill the Crusader is a result of new "Metal Storm" technology, which would allow the Army to skip a generation and develop more advanced weapons. Based on a revolutionary technology, Metal Storm drastically increases firing rates by utilizing electrical impulses to fire projectiles; it has no moving parts and stacks bullets on end in a barrel.
Australia-based Metal Storm Ltd. is also developing a system to replace land mines with a gun that can fire up to 1,800 grenades and 360 solid mortar rounds in a quarter of a second. A fully automated unmanned combat aircraft would carry 14,400 40-mm grenades and be capable of laying down a 100 yard-wide swathe of grenades, over two miles long.
Like other defense companies, Metal Storm assures access to leading politicians and defense brass by appointing former military officers to their boards. Admiral Bill Owens, former deputy chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is chairman of the board at Metal Storm, and President Bush's national director for combating terrorism, General Wayne Downing, is on the board. Maneuvering by the Defense Department, Army and Congress will determine whether the $11 billion Crusader comes to fruition. Bronzed, it would represent the perfect monument to the Cold War.