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15 May 02. The Pentagon said on Wednesday it would ask Congress to rush development of precision weapons to replace the U.S. Army’s Crusader system. Meanwhile one of the systems expected to benefit from the Crusader cancellation the BAE SYSTEMS XM777 has begun operational assessment with the U.S. Marines (See: BAE SYSTEMS XM777 BEGINS ASSESSMENT).

Michael Wynne, the No. 2 person in the Pentagon’s weapons purchasing office, said the Defense Department hoped to plough all of the $9bn left in the Crusader budget back into programs like a Raytheon Co. satellite-guided artillery shell and a Lockheed Martin Corp. guided multiple launch rocket system.

This would help meet the need for long-range pinpoint shelling that the army was racing to fill with Crusader, that had been due to enter service in 2008.

The Excalibur — the world’s first artillery round to be guided by Global Positioning System satellites — is fired into high altitude where it receives targeting data. Raytheon says it can destroy targets at ranges up to 30 miles (48 km).

The Pentagon also wants to speed the development of Lockheed’s extended-range Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System, with a range of 37 miles (60 km), and an experimental technology demonstration program called Net Fires being researched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Likewise, Wynne said, the Pentagon wanted to accelerate the so-called High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, also being developed by Lockheed.

Lawmakers from Oklahoma, where the Crusader is assembled, urged Rumsfeld Wednesday to refrain from issuing any “stop work” order on the big gun while Congress weighs what to do with the $475m earmarked for it in the fiscal 2003 budget.

“If you stop work, you risk losing much of the intellectual capital — the technology, experience and information — that has grown out of the program’s development over the last several years,” said a letter from the state’s two Republican senators, Don Nickles and James Inhofe, and Rep. J.C. Watts, the fourth-ranking member of the House of Representatives.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said the army had been ordered not to earmark any new funds for the Crusader. “It does not tell them to stop any ongoing work, rather it says not to start any new work,” she said.

For its part, the House Appropriations Committee adopted a nonbinding provision directing the Pentagon not to “precipitously stop work” on the program, requiring it to report back by mid-June on alternatives to the gun.

Rumsfeld is scheduled to appear today before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the Crusader, the most prominent weapons program to face cancellation since 1991 when then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney killed the Navy A-12 fighter jet program. Litigation challenging that move is pending.

United Defense Industries, meanwhile, called a news conference at which supporters of Crusader said scrapping it would leave U.S. forces vulnerable to the artillery batteries of potential foes like North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

“I don’t think any of them involved in this debate have looked at the weapons system or analyzed its impact on the army,” retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the ex-drug czar who was a commander in the 1991 Gulf War, told the news conference.

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