As development on the gun, propellant, and chassis moved forward during the 1990s, the US Army Field Artillery School [USAFAS] confronted the issue of examining alternative self-propelled 155-mm. howitzers to the Crusader. In January 1995 the Milestone I Acquisition Decision Memorandum for Crusader, written by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, required the Army to evaluate foreign systems, specifically the German PzH2000 self-propelled 155-mm. howitzer, to gain a better appreciation of the Crusader.
Subsequently, in November 1995 the Army tasked the Project Manager for Crusader to determine if the PzH2000 met the requirements for Crusader. This assignment led to a series of meetings in 1996 with the prime German contractor, Wegmann GmBH, and the German army, who were seeking potential foreign buyers. In May 1996 the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development, and Acquisition, Herbert K. Fallin, Jr., directed the Army to conduct a two-phase investigation to determine if the PzH2000 could be used as a Crusader. While Phase I, called the "quick look assessment," would provide a benchmark for future analysis, Phase II would be an in-depth analysis.
A team from the Directorate of Combat Developments, USAFAS, visited Germany late in June 1996 for a "quick look" assessment of the PzH2000. Although discussions with the Germans at that time disclosed significant differences between the American and German methods of collecting data, one team member concluded, "The PzH2000 is a very capable system that meets the needs of the German army." The visit also revealed that howitzer could be modified to meet some Crusader requirements but that it could not meet all of them.
The PzH2000 did not have a companion resupply vehicle, lacked a cannon cooling system that was required to provide continuous fire support to shape the battle and support surge and peak battle conditions, had a lower rate of fire, was less accurate, and had a five-person crew whereas the Crusader had a three-person crew.
Although the Germans insisted that they could modify the howitzer to meet the Army's requirements, the Army still opposed adopting it. First, the Crusader required a cooled cannon. Second, the reduction in operational costs in crew size from the Paladin to Crusader was imperative because of projected budgets. Although it may be possible to grow the PzH2000 system to meet Crusader requirements, the Army analyses suggested that this would not be the most efficient path to procure a system that meets Army requirements. Even so, the Army would still conduct a Phase II analysis in the near future to complement the Phase I analysis completed in 1996.
In its report of June 1997, the General Accounting Office (GAO) reviewed the Crusader program to determine its status and the availability of an alternative, such as the PzH2000. After conducting extensive interviews with varying levels of Army command and private industry in 1996-1997, the GAO concluded, "No existing artillery system meets all of the Crusader requirements." Notwithstanding its favorable report, the GAO acknowledged that the Crusader program faced considerable programmatic risks. More specifically, the technical challenges faced in developing and integrating advanced technologies, the potential compression of the program's schedule of development, and the absence of defined criteria for entering into low-rate initial production and full-rate production could jeopardize fielding the system.
To minimize the risk of prematurely entering into production, the GAO report recommended that the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to establish criteria specifying, at a minimum, that the Crusader system should demonstrate its ability to meet all key requirements, that it was on schedule for satisfying it reliability requirements before entering low-rate initial production, and that it was operationally effective and suitable before entering full-rate production. If the requirements could not be met, an alternative system could be considered. This left open the option of adopting the PzH2000, but this was not a viable consideration as far as the Army was concerned because the German howitzer failed to meet its needs.
Shortly afterwards, an article in Defense Daily on 21 October 1997 came to the defense of the German howitzer. It argued that the German PzH2000 would meet the needs of the Army after being improved and would be a less expensive than the Crusader. In a series of meetings and briefings during the remaining months of 1997 with congressional staffers, the Army addressed the article's contentions. Among other things, the Army pointed out that the PzH2000 would not provide revolutionary technology to support the force well into the next century, that PzH2000 modifications would still fall short of the Crusader's, and that they would not provide savings.
The PzH2000 was essentially a 1990 howitzer with serious mission deficiencies that precluded consideration. The howitzer was heavy, lacked automated loading capabilities, and was still to a great extent a manual system. Ultimately, the PzH2000 failed to meet Crusader requirements, nor could it meet them with the modifications.
In view of this, as far as the Army was concerned, the Crusader remained the future howitzer of choice because it would have a state-of-the-art cockpit with embedded command and control that would permit the crew to fight the system to its maximum potential, would have a robust cannon that would not overheat, would have a reliable ammunition loading system, and would have a powerful engine to keep the field artillery force up with the maneuver forces. From the Army's perspective based upon research, the Crusader would last at least forty years.
Paladin was a success story, but it was manpower intensive, lacked sufficient lethality, lacked the mobility of the supported force, and was a survivability risk. The Army required a more lethal, mobile, and survivable cannon system to meet the needs of the future because the Paladin would not be able to support Army XXI or the Army After Next. Equally important, the existing method of developing the system was cost effective and innovative to ensure that the Crusader satisfied the user's requirements at the best possible price in light of budget cuts.
The National Defense Panel questioned the rationale for the system in light of funding restraints and even urged reducing the number of Crusaders to be produced. Just as budgetary considerations raised the specter of finding a less expensive alternative weapon system or reducing the number of Crusaders to be developed and modifying the Acquisition Program Baseline schedule, they also drove a reconsideration of the system's design. A "Gray Matter Team" composed of the TRADOC System Manager, the Project Manager for Crusader, and the contractor met several times over a period of several months in 1997 to review the system's requirements, the state of development, and the program objectives and to recommend the optimum balance of cost, weight, and performance parameters. Based upon their findings, the team's recommendations urged adjusting the requirements to ensure system growth and cost effectiveness in an era of budgetary constraints and led to changes in the operational requirement document. As the team's work suggested, funding lay at the heart of Crusader issues in 1997. Notwithstanding threats to the system caused by budget cuts, a System Level Review on 16-18 December 1997 verified that development was moving forward as scheduled.
The Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat and Support Systems and the Chief of Field Artillery, Major General Leo J. Baxter, evaluated the Crusader program early in 1998 to determine its future. On 12 March 1998 they officially announced: "We are satisfied with the progress that has been made and with the ability of the design to meet the Crusader system requirements. We authorize the Project Manager and TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] System Manager to continue withdevelopment of the Crusader system."
This decision approved the system design and authorized the fabrication of two prototypes of the howitzer for delivery in December 1999 and two prototypes of the resupply vehicle for delivery in July 1999 to support technical and operational testing.
The self-propelled howitzer's digitized cockpit would ensure that the system would become an all-encompassing fighting platform, would be fully integrated in the tactical Internet, would be able to exploit information dominance, and would be its own fire direction center. With this latter characteristic the Crusader would eliminate the requirement for platoon, battery, and battalion fire direction centers and would raise the qualifications necessary for cannon crew members by moving fire direction center and tactical decision- making functions to the weapon. This basically meant that crew members would need training with tactical Internet operations, tactical fire direction readouts, and mechanical and electronic diagnostic and prognostic readouts.
Notwithstanding this, funding threatened to stall progress. The Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 1999 withheld funding until five critical issues were resolved favorably and reported to Congress by 1 March 1999. Once again, the Army and Field Artillery had to defend Crusader against detractors. In a report of February 1999, they answered the issues raised by Congress and explained that Crusader would be the first American howitzer since World War One that would be superior to other 155-mm. self-propelled howitzers, that it would fill an urgent void, that it would provide critical support for the Army and Joint Vision 2010, that it would satisfy Division XXI design requirements, that it would deliver the optimum balance of cost and performance, and that it would clearly furnish a revolution in tactical fires. This reasoning convinced Congress of the Crusader's importance to future warfighting, fostered support, and gained funding for the system.
As outlined in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's Heavy Force Modernization Plan, written at the direction of Congress during the latter months of 1998, the Army would procure 1,138 Crusaders during the first two decades of the twenty-first century. This number would equip twenty-two active component battalions, twenty-six Army National Guard battalions, and eight prepositioned sets and would furnish howitzers for the training and logistics base. Fielding would begin in FY 2005 by fielding division artilleries and their supporting field artillery brigades in complete packages. As a result, active component and Army National Guard units would be equipped concurrently.
In June 1999 Fort Sill received good news about Crusader. That month United Defense L.P. announced its intentions to construct a state-of-the-art assembly facility in Elgin, Oklahoma, which was located adjacent to Fort Sill's East Range. In 2004 the first production version of the howitzer was scheduled to roll out of the facility and onto Fort Sill's East Range where field artillerymen and contractors would test it. According to General Baxter, the Elgin site made good sense. Most of the Crusaders would be used at Fort Sill and Fort Hood, Texas. Assembling them near Fort Sill would facilitate training and testing.
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