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Project on Government Oversight




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

March 7, 2002 


The Crusader is an armored, mechanized vehicle slated to become the Army's next-generation, 155mm, Self-Propelled Howitzer cannon, supported by a companion ammunition resupply vehicle. The Crusader will be required to have greater firepower, range, and mobility than the current self-propelled Paladin howitzer, which during Operation Desert Storm was unable to keep up with tanks and other fighting vehicles.

The Crusader has been in technology development since 1994. In 2000, the Army restructured the program, requiring the contractor to make the prototype system lighter to be deployed more easily. The Department of Defense is expected to decide in April 2003 whether the Crusader should begin product development, a milestone that would represent a major commitment to the weapon system. Current estimates call for low-rate initial production of the Crusader to begin in 2005 and for the system to be fielded beginning in 2008.

Total Program Cost: $11.17 Billion
Total number of systems: 482
Average Unit Cost: $23.3 Million
Contractor: United Defense LP, Arlington, Virginia


  • The Crusader and the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) both have the same artillery missions and scheduled deployment date - 2008. If FCS's revolutionary technologies meet expectations, the system could end up being put into service at the same time as the Crusader, potentially making the Crusader outdated the day it is deployed. Not only will FCS - designed to replace the Crusader - be lighter, but they will feature more sophisticated armaments and other technologies than the Crusader.

  • The Crusader's contractor recently reduced the weight of the vehicle from about 60 tons to about 40 tons so it wouldn't be too heavy to be transported by the Air Force's largest cargo jet aircraft, the C-5A and C-17. The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) says in its February 2002 report that this weight reduction is relatively insignificant: The number of C-17 aircraft required to transport two full Crusader systems will only be reduced from five to four. Moreover, the Crusader still won't be light enough to be transported by the C-130, the Army's medium-lift workhorse cargo aircraft.

  • Design trade-offs made to reduce the weight of the Crusader may have reduced its mission effectiveness. For example, to reduce the weight, the contractor cut back on the amount of ammunition the vehicle carries and the list weight does not include armor protection "kits" (about 4 tons) that can be attached to the Crusader before a battle engagement. The GAO is skeptical that some of the weight may be added back on if system requirements are upgraded and is concerned that costs also could escalate during the process.

  • The GAO says that most of the Crusader's critical technologies will not be mature in time for the next major program milestone decision expected in 2003, a decision that would require a major commitment of resources by the Pentagon. That means the Crusader will be at high risk for costly schedule delays and redesigns.

  • 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.

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 2001 report, the GAO quoted 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 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 60 to 40 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 exploded 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. In its February 2002 report, the GAO disagreed with the Pentagon's plan to use modeling and simulation to demonstrate that the Crusader's technologies work. GAO prefers that they be proven through operational testing.

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: Defense Acquisitions: Steps to Improve the Crusader Program's Investment Decisions, GAO-02-201, February 2002; 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; "Digital Models Expedite Crusader Redesign," National Defense Magazine, April, 2001; "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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