Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has appeared before a key Congressional committee to defend his controversial decision to cancel a sophisticated new artillery system for the U.S. Army.
Mr. Rumsfeld says the decision to cancel the Crusader artillery system was not taken precipitously. He tells members of the Senate Armed Services Committee the Crusader is an excellent weapon and would make a good replacement for the Army's current 40-year-old field artillery piece.
But Mr. Rumsfeld says he is convinced the $9 billion earmarked for further development of the Crusader system could be better spent on more high-tech weapons better suited for use in the 21st century.
"We are convinced that it is better to invest that money where it can be used to prove the truly transformational capabilities, such as increased accuracy, more rapid deployability and the ability to network fires that will make the Army indirect fire systems effective and relevant on the battlefields of the 21st century," he said.
Although the cancellation move has won some support among legislators, this is still strong opposition. Democratic Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, an Army veteran, is challenging the Pentagon's decision, especially in light of endorsements of Crusader from top Army officials.
Senator Cleland also questions the artillery alternatives the Pentagon wants to pursue. "You are asking us to, in effect, ratify a decision you have already made that eliminates this program of the Crusader where we have already pumped $2 billion into it and exchange it for what? You have not even analyzed the alternatives," he said.
The Pentagon says the alternatives to Crusader include the speedy development of new precision-guided artillery rounds and rockets as well as fresh upgrades to the Army's existing artillery system.
The Senate is considering joining the House of Representatives in defying Mr. Rumsfeld and approving continued funding for the development of Crusader.