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'Crusader' Gets The Cut

An advisory panel appointed by the Secretary of Defense has called for the cancellation of the Army's new mobile artillery system, the Crusader, along with other weapons programs designed for large-scale wars, according to a published report.

The recommendations, outlined in a briefing for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Saturday, conclude that the Crusader is ill-suited for a new military strategy focused on projecting military power over long distances with air and naval forces, The New York Times reported in Monday's editions.

"The Crusader effectively got the ax from the panel because it didn't fit the agenda," an official told the Times. "It's a wonderful system — for a legacy world."

The Army plans to spend $11.1 billion to build 480 Crusaders, which are automatic, self-propelled 155-millimeter howitzers, or cannons, enabling them to fire farther and faster than the Army's existing artillery system, known as the Paladin. They are cumbersome at a time when the Army's chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, has proposed lighter, more agile fighting forces, the Times said.

The Crusader reflects the debate over the weapons the United States will need in battles that are not expected to reflect Cold War-era strategies. The recommendations also are expected to become a test of the Bush administration's promises to reshape the military for the 21st century, pitting supporters of overhauls against supporters of service traditions, defense contractors and jobs, the Times said.

President George W. Bush has pledged to abandon programs that make marginal improvements in existing weapons. But the Crusader has powerful supporters in the Army and on Capitol Hill, making any cuts difficult.

Army commanders say the Crusader, scheduled to reach the field after 2008, is critical to ensuring combat superiority in land battles for years to come. It is built by United Defense L.P., a contractor based in Arlington, Virginia, and owned by the Carlyle Group, an investment firm led by Frank C. Carlucci, a secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan.

The panel also recommended scrapping plans to modernize other Army weapons, including the M1-A2 Abrams tank, the Bradley armored combat vehicle and the Air Force's B-1 bomber.

The advisory panel of more than a dozen people was led by David Gompert, a vice president at the Rand Corp. and a national security aide in the first Bush administration. No final decisions have been made on any programs, including the Crusader, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said. The reviews were held in secret, emphasizing the political risks of proposed cuts in military programs, the Times said.

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