Following marching orders from the U.S. Army's top leadership, the Crusader
field artillery system is undergoing a strict regimen that aims to both take
weight off the vehicles and convince program detractors that it has an important
role in 21st century land warfare.
The Crusader program began in 1994, but it only recently came under fire because,
at more than 100 tons, it was seen as too heavy to meet the transportability
needs of today's fast-moving military operations. Before it was put on a diet,
the Crusader tracked self-propelled howitzer and its resupply vehicle each stood
at about 55 tons.
During the next two years, the Crusader will be revamped in order to strip
off literally tons of weight and bring the system down to about 80 tons, program
officials said. This will be accomplished primarily through the use of modular
armor and by switching to a smaller power plant. Making resupply vehicles wheeled,
rather than tracked, also is being considered.
Under its revised schedule, Crusader is expected to enter the engineering and
manufacturing development (EMD) phase in April 2003, said Army Col. Charles
A. Cartwright, who is the program manager. "The schedule was worked jointly
by the government and prime contractor United Defense LP," he said in an
interview. "We are building software and the design refinement team is
The program now is in the so-called "program definition and risk reduction
phase," said Cartwright. Under the new schedule, this phase had to be extended
by two years in order to "do the redesign and allow technologies to mature,"
The Crusader digitized, automated, howitzer fires 155mm artillery shells at
targets more than 40 kilometers away in various weather conditions. A twin-vehicle
system, it consists of a 155mm cannon and turret in one unit, supported by a
resupply vehicle (RSV) carrying ammunition, fuel and water.
The redesign-using computer simulation and modeling technology at the United
Defense Systems Integration Facility, in Minneapolis-began after Army Chief
of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, in October 1999, announced plans to revamp the
service into a lighter force that can be transported more easily.
Shinseki, a former tank commander and artillery observer who served two tours
in Vietnam, remains committed to developing the Crusader. "We need the
firepower," Shinseki told a National Defense reporter during a break at
a recent congressional hearing. "What we lose in maneuverability, we get
back in firepower and troop support."
But nevertheless, Shinseki's plan meant that Crusader purchases had to be cut
back. Originally, the Army had intended to buy 1,138 systems. That number was
slashed to 480. That could save as much as $12 billion through the entire life
of the program, according to an Army spokesman.
Among the proposed changes for Crusader is the use of advanced materials, such
as titanium, in the tracks and elsewhere in the vehicle-and there are plans
to lighten the suspension and power plant, said E. Jeffrey Van Keuren, spokesman
for United Defense LP.
To save weight, United Defense and the Army have come up with a "total
systems approach," he said, to reach a predetermined goal of 38 to 42 tons
per vehicle. While every facet of the redesign isn't complete, that goal is
within sight, asserted program officials.
Army Maj. Robert Harper, who is responsible for Crusader logistics work at
Fort Sill, Okla., said that determining how much lighter Crusader will be depends
on whether it comes with or without armor. The current weight, he said, is down
to between 38 to 44 tons per vehicle-without armor. "With armor on, we're
back close to the original weight," he noted.
But others disagree. David Crowell, business development manager of the Crusader
program for United Defense, said that "the armor accounts for three to
four tons of the total weight." Even at 44 tons, considered to be well
above the high-end estimate, that would not push the weight of a single Crusader
vehicle anywhere close to the former 55-ton range, he said in a phone interview.
The problem with Crusader's original weight represented more of a fuel problem
for the C-5B transport aircraft than the actual size of the payload, Crowell
said. With less weight, he argued, the C-5B Galaxy would be capable of flying
3,200 nautical miles, while carrying two Crusader vehicles, without refueling-something
that would have been impossible at the original weight. With a C-17 transport,
two vehicles would be able to travel up to 2,800 nautical miles.
Harper said that the Army is planning to make removable armor panels that could
be pre-positioned in theaters of operation when necessary. He explained that
titanium is being used in an effort to retain protective strength, while at
the same time reducing weight.
The Army, however, will pay a higher price for the titanium substitution, warned
Crowell. "The more titanium you use in place of aluminum, the more it costs."
Designers found that they could accomplish an immediate weight loss by creating
a smaller vehicle. By taking a six-inch strip out of the middle of each vehicle
and cutting off some of the length, they could eliminate a couple of road wheels
and two to three tons of weight, said Crowell.
"When you reduce the overall weight by reducing the volume under armor,
you also can go to a smaller track," he added. This would allow the Army
to use a 23-inch track in place of a planned 25-inch version, Crowell calculated.
But the size reduction might have negative consequences as well, warned Harper.
It would reduce the number of rounds that the attending RSV could deliver to
the howitzer on each trip, he said. Instead of 60 rounds, he estimated, the
number might be reduced to around 50.
To get around this problem, United Defense has proposed a basic change in the
Crusader system. Instead of having the howitzer rely on a single supply vehicle
as first intended, the contractor suggested using one tracked RSV for every
two cannons. Each RSV would be supported by a wheeled truck, which would serve
as a basic ammunition carrier. The truck would be modified to mount an "ammo
module" on the back, Harper said. The module would be serviced by a crane
that would load pallets of projectiles and propellant for transport into combat.
The Army is considering assigning nine RSV wheeled vehicles and nine tracked
RSVs to service 18 howitzers. This configuration could make as much as 120 to
130 rounds available for each howitzer during peak firing periods, Harper estimated.
A mix of wheeled and tracked vehicles is the most desirable, Harper believes,
for maintaining flexibility. "A wheeled vehicle is the best on roads,"
he said, "while track is more suited for cross-country."
The area where the most weight savings can be realized, however, is in the
power pack, Crowell said. Under a project called the Abrams/Crusader Engine
Initiative, the Army will select an engine that will be common to the tank and
howitzer. The new motor would weigh less and occupy less space in both vehicles,
Crowell said, and the reduced weight would permit chassises to be lightened.
Having the engine drop from 1,600 hp to 1,200 hp and installing an appropriate
transmission might account for as much as five to six tons in weight savings,
Crowell pointed out.
A key parameter that has not changed, he continued, is the composite armor
on the turret section of the howitzer vehicle, which already consisted of a
metal matrix, lightweight composite.
By making the armor plates detachable, Van Keuren explained, designers were
able to create what he called "bolt-on protection kits." These kits
could be pre-positioned, he said, and they could be made interchangeable with
lighter plates, depending on the threats likely to be encountered.
Almost half of the 1.7 million lines of the digital operating system code required
to run the Crusader are brand new, custom-designed for this program, Crowell
pointed out. The code had to be rewritten to overcome a series of unsolved glitches
that the program had been experiencing for months.
"You know how it is on your computer at work when you have a program open,
and you want to open another?" Crowell asked. "There is a pause, while
the second program boots up. With Crusader, this function is intended to be
immediate." This is important, Crowell said, because time wasted while
waiting for programs to open could mean the difference between life and death
for troops in the field.
Cartwright also emphasized that "software releases" are among the
program's top priorities during the current risk-reduction phase.
Solving the Crusader's weight problem and its computer glitches will boost
development costs from $2.9 billion to $4.3 billion, according to a recent Defense
Department selected acquisition report. The computer problems, by themselves,
will run $492.5 million, the report said.
But an analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary
Assessments noted that the $492 million would likely have been spent anyway.
That means that the development cost increase is about $1 billion.
Harper noted that, before the redesign, the price of each howitzer-RSV set
was about $12 million. But he said that it is now too early in the program to
predict the unit costs when Crusader is fielded in 2008.
The Crusader's design refinement phase is expected to be complete by the end
of September, according to Crowell. As it now stands, he estimated, the redesign
on the RSV portion of the project should be finished by the end of July. The
program received $266 million in research, development, testing and evaluation
in 2000. The projected budget for 2001 is $355 million. "The object is
to present the Army with all of the trade-offs, so it can make a decision on
the changes that best serve its needs," Crowell said.
Crusader will be fielded to the Army's III Corps, which is the service's heavy
counter-attack force and currently is being upgraded with new digital technologies
for its vehicles. Cartwright noted that both active and National Guard units
will receive Crusaders.
Under Shinseki's vision, the Army would transition during the next two decades
to a so-called "objective force," capable of deploying five divisions
in 30 days.
The III Corps will be the "last unit to transform" to the objective
force, said Brig. Gen. David F. Melcher, deputy director of the Army's office
of the deputy chief of staff for operations and plans. Briefing reporters in
Huntsville, Ala., on the Army's transformation plan, Melcher said that "the
Crusader system is not a system for the objective force, unless it were substantially
reconfigured to get into a C-130 [medium-airlift] platform."
Cartwright, meanwhile, declined to comment on Crusader's role under the chief's
new vision "because the design of the objective force still is ongoing
at the Army level."
Others within the Army, however, worry that Crusader may lose clout if the
program slowed down any further. "Should any more problems delay Crusader's
deployment beyond 2008, the system might not see the light of day," said
Harper. If that happened, he reasoned, the technologies and techniques developed
in the Crusader effort would then be "carried over to the [FCS] future
combat system." The FCS is a medium-weight vehicle the Army plans to develop
for the objective force of 2015-2020. According to Melcher, the Army would include
a self-propelled howitzer as part of the FCS family of vehicles.
Embedded diagnostics training and digital maintenance manuals are among the
technological improvements that Harper sees being carried forward from Crusader
to other vehicles. "We are the first generation for the 21st century combat
system," he said.
"I think the Crusader will have a life long after the deployment of FCS,"
United Defense's Crowell predicted. "It still remains to be seen if FCS
will be able to do both direct and indirect fire and all the other things that
it is supposed to be capable of doing."
Both Harper and Crowell flatly rejected the possibility that the Crusader eventually
might be transformed into a 20-ton interim artillery vehicle (IAV) for the Army's
new medium-weight brigades.
"I don't see it happening," Harper said. "We have to keep the
tube if we want to maintain the range. A lighter body couldn't withstand the
constant pounding. And without the range, there's no reason to have a Crusader."
Not only would range be lost, Crowell said, but also magazine capacity. "To
maintain rapid fire, you have to be able to supply the necessary rounds. Otherwise,
you create nothing but resupply problems for yourself."
Crowell agreed that the best bet is creating a separate IAV. He noted that
United Defense is working on an IAV design, but such a platform would not be
a Crusader. Melcher, meanwhile, said he expects the Army will rely primarily
on a towed 155mm howitzer for its interim brigades.
Doug Coffey, a spokesman for United Defense, said that the company is developing
digital vehicle models, so it can be ready for a future competition.
The firm is moving ahead with construction of a Crusader test and assembly site
in Elgin, Okla., adjacent to Fort Sill, site of the Army's artillery school.
Van Keuren explained that the company plans to assemble all vehicles at this
Cartwright said that a prototype of the gun currently is being tested at the
Army Proving Ground, near Yuma, Ariz. "On March 3, the gun shot 42 km on
the ground," he asserted. The required range is 40 km. So far this year,
the prototype howitzer at Yuma has fired 13 rounds. But Cartwright said the
plan is "to fire 1,800 rounds" before the end of 2000. He noted that
the gun will not change under the new design. "Range and rate of fires
are [key performance parameters] that have not changed."
While the Army has not yet fired a fully loaded magazine of 60 rounds in quick
succession, Van Keuren said, the automatic loading and firing system had worked
as intended during a "dry run."
To move into the next phase of the program, he said, Crusader is required to
fire at least six rounds per minute. The "dry-run" drill racked up
a better-than-expected score of nine out of a possible 10.
So far, Crowell said, testers had not been firing any advanced fuzed rounds.
By the end of testing, the contractor hopes to be nearing a 50-kilometer range.
The Crusader's firing sequence uses an incrementally stronger propellant package
for each of the 10 rounds fired in any given minute. Fuzing will be automatically
set by the digital firing system with the object of having all 10 rounds arrive
at the chosen target at the same time.
Harper pointed to the "automatic, inductive fuze setter," as another
example of technology that most likely will become a standard application in
the future for even non-Crusader artillery pieces.
The Crusader is "the first completely automated, digitized artillery system,"
Crowell asserted. He called it the most "innovative field artillery system
development since breech-loading cannons were introduced during the Civil War
... Everything since then has been modifications of the same design. Soldiers
have to handle the rounds, set the primers and they're still pulling lanyards."
These loading and firing sequences, at work in the Paladin mobile artillery
piece today, will become obsolete when replaced by Crusader. "The last
time a soldier should have to handle projectiles and propellant is while loading
an RSV," said Harper. "That is, unless there is a breakdown of some
kind. Then, the howitzer would most likely have to be unloaded manually."
Van Keuren added that the howitzer's laser ignition system makes inserting
a primer charge unnecessary, thereby reducing yet another job that needs to
be performed by crews in older systems.
"There's a void that we definitely have to fill," Col. Michael Cuff,
of the Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla., told reporters last
October. "We need to support our mechanized forces. Crusader will fire
in support of the Abrams and the Bradley."
Program supporters like to point out that that it took 12 C-17 transports to
deploy as many Paladins to Kosovo last year. One Crusader is designed to fire
about three times as much ordnance as two Paladins in the same amount of time,
they say. These advocates noted that fewer than half as many transports would
have been needed to bring more firepower, if Crusader had been available at
In a video made by United Defense, the Army chose one of their most efficient
Paladin crews to compete against a dry run of the Crusader automatic magazine.
In slightly under two minutes, the score stood at Crusader, 16; Paladin, 3.
With three soldiers in the howitzer vehicle and three more in the RSV, employing
fewer crew members is one more advantage that Crusader offers, Van Keuren pointed
out. "All of the activity of the crew in the fighting compartment is replaced
by automation," he said. Over the years, a Paladin crew has been shrunk
from 11 to nine, where it remains today. The Paladin was first deployed in 1963.
Staff writer Sandra I. Erwin contributed to this report.