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Fight Gearing Up Over Multi-Billion Dollar US Weapons Project - 2002-05-09

A battle is shaping up between Congress and the Pentagon over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's decision to kill an $11 billion weapons program known as the Crusader. The fight over the program looks far from over.

The Crusader is a self-propelled, rapid-fire cannon. The Army made it its top budget priority, arguing the system is needed to meet threats from more advanced artillery already used by China, North Korea and other potential enemies.

But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld decided the Crusader's $11 billion price tag was money that could be better spent on more advanced weapons systems and decided to kill it.

"What is going to happen is we are going to do exactly what I said. We are going to cancel the Crusader, we are going to make our case persuasively with Congress. We will persuade as many people as we need, but not all, given the nature of life, and it will end up being cancelled," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

It has been known for days now that the Crusader's fate was doomed, but that has not stopped Army staffers from doing some under-the-table lobbying of members of Congress in a last ditch effort to save the program.

Those contacts led to speculation that Army Secretary White was about to lose his job. Instead, the whole issue has drawn the type of response from Secretary Rumsfeld that has made his Pentagon briefings one of the most watched in Washington.

"There is no question that some individuals in the Army were way in the dickens out of line. It was not Secretary White. Someone with an overactive thyroid seemed to get his hands and his mouth ahead of his brain," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Still, members of Congress, especially those from Oklahoma, where the Crusader was to have been built - are vowing to fight to save a weapons program that critics have described as a Cold War relic.