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Army’s New Mobile Artillery System Leads Rumsfeld, Congress to Battle

By Vernon Loeb

Supporters and opponents of the Army’s new Crusader mobile artillery system drew battle lines Thursday, with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signaling his intent to cancel the program within 30 days and Congress acting swiftly to block the move.

The decision to cancel the $11 billion Crusader program, disclosed Tuesday night by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in a meeting that stunned Army officials, has quickly become the most important test to date of Rumsfeld’s ability to clear the defense budget of antiquated Cold War weapons and “transform” the nation’s fighting capabilities.

Rumsfeld’s talk of the program’s likely cancelation sent the stock of United Defense Industries Inc., the Crusader’s manufacturer, tumbling 15 percent in value in heavy trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld said his senior aides had decided to cancel the artillery system but would not make a final decision for 30 days so that Army officials can study the feasibility of more advanced precision-guided artillery technology.

But Rumsfeld made it clear that he not happy that Army officials immediately began lobbying on Capitol Hill to save the Crusader and said their rear-guard activities, which including faxing “talking points” to congressional supporters of the weapon system, would be investigated by the Army’s Inspector General.

“I have a minimum of high regard for that kind of behavior,” Rumsfeld said.

At Rumsfeld’s behest, the Inspector General’s probe was set in motion by Army Secretary Thomas White, a Crusader advocate who has been quoted by one senator as saying that he was “in a fight to save Crusader within the building.”

White’s role in the Crusader fight further clouds his tenure at the Pentagon, where he has been faulted by Congress -- as the highest ranking former Enron executive in the Bush administration -- for failing to disclose stock options he continued to hold in Enron and dozens of telephone calls to former Enron executives.

White, a former Army general who became vice chairman of Enron Energy Services, is also under investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General for his handling of personal business matters on trips using Army jets.

One senior defense official, sympathetic to the Army’s plight, said that in faxing “talking points” to members of Congress, the Army’s Office of Legislative Affairs was merely trying to provide information about a program that was included in President Bush’s 2003 budget -- as the House Armed Services Committee prepared to review the bill.