The decision to recommend termination of the Army's Crusader artillery program has little to do with the weapon itself. If it could be produced and fielded as designed, it would be a fine piece of artillery -- the natural evolution from the current system, Paladin, which entered production after the Gulf War in 1992.
But we do not seek evolutionary progress in our ability to defend ourselves. So little is certain when it comes to the future of warfare, but on one point we must be clear: We risk deceiving ourselves and emboldening future adversaries by assuming it will look like the past. Sept. 11 proved one thing above all others: Our enemies are transforming.
In the context of the Crusader decision, it is worth reviewing a statement by President Bush on the need to change the way we think about the future battlefield: "I expect the military's budget priorities to match our strategic vision -- not the particular visions of the services -- but a joint vision for change. . . . I will direct the secretary of defense to allocate these funds to . . . new programs that do so. I intend to force new thinking and hard choices."
Perhaps most remarkable about that statement is that it was not made in the current Crusader context. Then-Gov. Bush said it in a speech to the cadets at the Citadel in September 1999.
"We are witnessing a revolution in the technology of war," he warned that day. "Power is increasingly defined not by size but by mobility and swiftness. Influence is measured in information; safety is gained in stealth; and forces are projected on the long arc of precision-guided weapons."
Once elected, the president charged me with the responsibility to put structure behind that vision, to identify the tough choices we faced in order to best prepare ourselves for a future about which the only thing certain was uncertainty.
The decision to recommend termination of the Crusader program was reached after many months of careful review, wide-ranging discussion and in-depth planning and analysis. This was a review not just of the Crusader program but also of future capabilities, of the strategy to guide us and of a framework for assessing and balancing risks.
The senior uniformed and civilian leaders of the Defense Department spent countless hours discussing these matters in a process that started well before Sept. 11. Tragically, Sept. 11 confirmed many of our conclusions.
Addressing these issues forces one to scrutinize systems envisioned a decade ago or more, such as Crusader. The decision to recommend its termination is based on our assessment that we must forgo a system originally designed for a different strategic context to make room for more promising technologies that can accelerate the transformation of future warfare on terms the United States must dictate.
The world has stood by in some amazement at the effectiveness of precision munitions in Afghanistan. There is no reason we cannot apply that technology to the Army's land warfare capabilities. Resources are always finite, and we believe we must give preference to capabilities such as increased accuracy, more rapid deployability and "networked" combat. These capabilities will make the Army much more effective -- and relevant -- on the battlefields of the 21st century.
Taken together, the systems we want to accelerate in lieu of Crusader can offer greater improvements in precision, range and deployability -- central objectives to the Army's broader transformation vision. We have the opportunity to produce revolutionary capabilities faster and ensure their earlier integration into the Army.
The question we must answer is: Are the interim capabilities Crusader would provide -- and not for several years -- worth the delay in acquiring truly transformational technology that can sustain our combat advantage well into the future?
In his September 1999 remarks, President Bush told those cadets, "I will not command the new military we create. That will be left to a president who comes after me. . . . The outcome of great battles," he said, "is often determined by decisions on funding and technology made decades before, in the quiet days of peace."
The decisions about which he spoke are tough decisions. But if we do not make them now, when shall we?
The writer is the secretary of defense.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company