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By Ted Lang
The widening gap over the Army's Crusader program within the Department of Defense between Secretary of the Army Thomas White, a former Enron executive, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, exposes what might prove to be a long and protracted battle within the Beltway.
Members of Congress and Senators are already being drawn into the fray, which is not just limited to pet DoD projects in their respective Congressional Districts and states, but will loom larger involving the overall, long-term plan on how best to defend the United States.
The contention generated by the Crusader program is between those who characterize it as a Cold War technology relic no longer feasible or quickly deployable, and those who offer it as essential to counter the superior artillery weaponry of communist bloc nations.
The Crusader program is the successor generation of mobile artillery units that look like tanks, but are in reality tracked armored mobile artillery pieces. Crusader is the next generation Paladin, a 40 year-old existent and in-production mobile artillery system.
Crusader is only in the later design stages in terms of research and development and was to be placed in service in 2008. It is a mobile, rapid-fire howitzer with the capability of firing and delivering 155 mm ordnance 30 miles to within 100 yards of the target. It relies upon a sophisticated computerized system and software package. Munitions designed for the Crusader can destroy a city block, and will be supplied to the vehicle during combat operations by another separate and supporting armored vehicle. The armored feature of the weapon system protects military personnel in the field from rifle and automatic weapons fire. It also reduces greatly the normal manpower required for such a superior rate of sustained fire.
The overarching consideration in this debate, in addition to issues of current applicability, involves cost. About half a century ago, defense expenditures accounted for about 40 per cent of the US budget; today, defense expenditures account for only about 16 per cent. Congressionally-mandated cutbacks and the "investments" in social domestic programs accelerated by a presumed "peace dividend" have put pressure on DoD to do more with less. Crusader is an obvious casualty.
Crusader has a price tag of $11 billion, $2 billion of which has already been spent. The current fiscal year [Oct 1 to Sep 30] budget approved by the Bush administration has a $475 million anticipated appropriation set aside for Crusader. Rumsfeld will now re-allocate these funds.
Modernizing the military and developing technologies to conduct wars has produced beneficial innovations that have served mankind positively. The sulfur drugs and penicillin used to combat malaria progressed from research necessitated by the Spanish-American war. Synthetic rubber was insignificant until the Japanese conquered the Philippines during WW II and captured all the rubber tree plantations. Exploratory methods for cancer research are also being developed from research formerly thought to have only military applications. And clearly, adaptation of the military applications of aviation for civilian purposes has changed the world.
Where previous technologies were developed reacting to wartime needs, today's defense planning emphasizes technology against a combined backdrop of cost, global politics, and quick and effective response capability assessed against nuclear counter-attack. Contrasted against these global constraints are the parochial needs of congressmen and senators looking to protect pet projects for their constituents back home.
Yesterday's defense included the need for massive, gigantic turret lathes, two hundred or more feet in length! Compare this to the ordinary machine shop lathe of anywhere from five to ten feet in length. The chuck, that part of a hand-held electric drill that the drill bit is locked into, is twenty-five feet across on these monstrous lathes. These behemoths were used to make gun tubes for Navy vessels, especially the 16-inch diameter variety. Missile tubes have replaced these guns. Today, the cost of manufacturing and deploying missiles capable of much more damage and range are a fraction of these capital and production costs. Heavy, lumbering M1A2 Abrams tanks were deployed to Kosovo, but were unable to cross tiny wooden bridges and thereby rendered useless. Yet the Abrams pounded the Iraqi-Russian tanks in the desert a little over a decade ago.
Anticipating Rumsfeld's actions canceling Crusader, a lower echelon Department of Army official failed to comply with "chain-of-command" protocol, and provided select members of Congress directly with a report trumpeting Crusader's merits; hence, the crossed signals involving Rumsfeld and White. The errant underling resigned.
As if things weren't complicated enough, another consideration is whether we need weapons to defend ourselves, or to continue to conduct incursions as the world's global police. Obviously, after that decision is made, another should be whether we retain the title Department of Defense, or change it back to what it used to be: The War Department.
(c) Theodore E. Lang. All rights reserved.
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