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Project on Government Oversight




Fighting with Failures Series: Case Studies of How the Pentagon Buys Weapons: Crusader Howitzer

April 20, 2001 


The Crusader is an armored, mechanized vehicle slated to become the Army's next-generation, 155mm, Self-Propelled Howitzer cannon and its companion re-supply vehicle.


Short Cuts on the Way to Acquisition:

  • The Crusader's systems engineering was, to a large extent, not completed until after the acquisition program was launched. In a recent report, the General Accounting Office noted Crusader officials saying that United Defense did not develop a good preliminary design of the system until 1998, about eight years after the Department of Defense launched the program.
  • The Crusader originally was to have relied on a revolutionary technology, a liquid propellant for firing weapon projectiles. Two years into product development, the Crusader's contractor, United Defense Limited Partnership, determined that the liquid propellant was too risky and would cost an additional $500 million to develop.
  • Another change to the Crusader's design came after the Army altered its mission. The new Crusader's weight requirement has been reduced from 55 to 38 tons. The GAO said this lighter weight could require unacceptable trade-offs related to the degree of crew protection, the time the vehicle spends on the firing line, and whether the Crusader is a tracked or wheeled vehicle.
  • Rather than delay the milestone decision to enter the next development phase - program officials were concerned a delay would adversely impact the program's momentum - the Army decided to allow a modification of testing. Instead of live-fire testing of the most advanced prototype, the Army now intends to meet testing criteria by using a combination of data from live firings of a previous design that blew up when it was tested.
  • In response to funding reductions, the Army is making critical program scheduling decisions that will compress the program's schedule beyond its already-compressed schedule under the streamlined acquisition process.


  • The Crusader program is expected to take over 14 years and cost over $4 billion to develop. In all, the cost to obtain 480 Crusaders is expected to total $11.2 billion, or $23.3 million each.
  • The Crusader is expensive and does not mesh well with the Army's far-term vision of a lighter, more mobile force.
  • Weight remains a major problem for the Crusader. The Crusader is nearly twice the weight of the system that it replaces, the Paladin. The Crusader and its fully loaded resupply vehicle have a combined weight of 110 tons, too much to lift even on the military's largest transport plane, the C-5B, without waiving flight rules.
  • The Crusader's autoloader has no backup. If the autoloader fails, the Crusader howitzer will be unable to fire because the cannon cannot be hand loaded.
  • Total Number of Systems: 480; Total Program Cost: $11.17 billion; Average Unit Cost: $23.28 million.


POGO's Fighting with Failures Series documents Pentagon shortcuts in testing and operational requirements that have resulted in weapons that do not work, that waste taxpayer dollars, or that are not suitable for combat.


Sources: Fiscal Year 2000 Annual Report, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, March 2001; Best Practices: Better Matching of Needs and Resources Will Lead to Better Weapon System Outcomes, GAO-01-288, March 2001; Army Armored Systems: Advanced Field Artillery System Experiences Problems With Liquid Propellant, GAO/NSIAD-95-25; Army Armored Systems: Meeting Crusader Requirements Will Be a Technical Challenge, GAO/NSIAD-97-121, June 1997; "Army's Big Gun Must Lose Some Weight," Washington Post, November 25, 1999.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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