WASHINGTON: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the White House no longer want the $11 billion Crusader artillery system, but its manufacturers are waging a public affairs war to make them take it.The Crusader is a 40-ton mobile cannon designed for open-field warfare.
Supporters say it can save soldiers' lives by hitting approaching armies before they are within striking distance of US forces. Critics accuse it of being a Cold War relic (though it was originally ordered after the Gulf War), offering little advantage in modern warfare.
"The world has stood by in some amazement at the effectiveness of precision munitions in Afghanistan,
Rumsfeld wrote in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post. "We believe we must give preference to capabilities such as increased accuracy, more rapid deployability, and 'networked' combat."
But while the White House stands firmly behind Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the weapon, Army secretary Thomas White has made it clear he does not, as have several members of Congress, particularly those representing Oklahoma, where the weapon was to be built.
United Defense International, the defense contractor responsible for the Crusader, has allied with its subcontractors, which include Honeywell and General Dynamics, to form the Crusader Industrial Alliance. Together, these companies are attempting to circumvent Rumsfeld's wishes by getting Congress to legislate for the weapon's completion.
The alliance is waging an education campaign on the Hill to "make sure the misinformation about the Crusader is addressed,
explained United Defense VP of communications Doug Coffey. Accusations that the weapon is too heavy or cannot be deployed quickly are among the myths he cited.
Powell Tate, which has a longstanding relationship with United Defense, has been retained by the alliance to provide public affairs support. The Weber Shandwick Worldwide-owned shop is placing op-eds, compiling press kits, and providing strategic counsel, according to Coffey.
Also briefly working for the alliance was Barbour Griffith & Rogers (BG&R), the lobbying firm of former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. However, the relationship was short-lived.
"They were working for us for one day,
said Coffey, "then they came back and said they had a conflict and had to withdraw."
That conflict was with the White House itself, which reportedly called BG&R and expressed dissatisfaction over its involvement with the alliance.
Crusader proponents have thus far scored two major victories in keeping the weapon alive. Earlier this month, the House passed a nonbinding resolution instructing the Pentagon not to kill the weapon before studying alternatives.
It also passed a 2003 defense authorization bill that included $475 million for completion of the Crusader.