On Point: Mud, the Crusader and Inter-Service Distrust

by Austin Bay
Aug 21, 2002

It's about mud.

Part of the story of mud is the Army's Crusader Howitzer, whichwas declared officially dead this month.

The August action merely closed the bureaucratic coffin on themultibillion dollar howitzer project. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeldkilled the weapon last spring, when he made a solid case that Crusaderdoesn't provide the leap-ahead battlefield tech the United States needs tobe researching, developing and buying.

I happen to agree with Rumsfeld, but I'm disappointed in thehowitzer's defenders, and I'm disturbed because so few analysts havebroached what this fight is really all about. It goes far beyond Crusader.

But let's stick with artillery for a moment. The U.S. Army hasyet to make its case for field artillery versus air support or robots, forthat matter. The case is mud. Field artillery lives -- in the mud, in thejungle, in the ice -- with the other ground troops. Crusader is about theArmy owning its own fire support and being able to have it 24-7. Fieldartillery fire support doesn't fly away to a base.

And that's the clue. Lurking behind the Crusader conundrum is afundamental issue in America's defense world -- inter-service distrust. Thisinter-service distrust, the ingrained attitudes and, yes, the legitimateworries behind some of those attitudes detract from the collective defenseeffort.

The historical peg is Guadalcanal. The Marines landed. Firesupport came from U.S. Navy ships. Then the Imperial Japanese Navy showedup, and the U.S. Navy went away. The Marines were stuck there, out there,without air cover, without sufficient field artillery. Now, of course, theMarines are part of the Navy, but the Corps felt abandoned. Sure, the Navyhad good reasons to pull back, but tell it to the Marines.

The USAF reigns supreme because American airmen and technologyare very good. However, "close air support" -- dumping bombs and bullets onenemy forces to support Army ground troops -- is regarded by some fighterjocks as literally and figuratively beneath them.

I'm exaggerating a bit. USAF pilots, at great risk, haverepeatedly saved the lives of American infantrymen. Still, close air supporthas been a stepchild in the Air Force, and the Army knows it.

The Air Force fighter jock doesn't want airpower reduced toartillery. The irony is, once the Air Force has smashed enemy air defenses,that is what air becomes -- and should become. Precision munitions, in fact,make air-delivered munitions excellent artillery -- one of Rumsfeld'spoints. A B-52 with a JDAM is like having a Navy 16-inch gun providingprecise fire support, and it's available 2,000 miles from the sea.

B-52s, however, fly away. The field artillery lives with thegrunts. Weather frustrates the best attempts at round-the-clock air support.The Army has a legitimate point.

Up to a point.

That's where Rumsfeld's whiz kids have their case. Newtechnologies could provide that 24-7 support the ground troops need. Theseinclude "smart" missiles, air and ground robots and space-deliveredmunitions. The Army's 120 mm mortar already provides most of the close-incapabilities of medium field artillery, and a new generation of "smartmortar rounds" will make it better still.

Unfortunately, a lot of Rummie's whiz kids have never had theprivilege of crawling in mud while in uniform. Until the new tech is proven,the Army's "conservative" response has moral legitimacy. That response,however, doesn't legitimate buying a pricey new artillery system in an eraof technological transition. It legitimates keeping current legacy systemsas a hedge, as we work the kinks out of promising technology.

As for inter-service distrust, the answer there is betterintegration of the armed services. When the U.S. armed services work together, the results speak for themselves.

Reuniting the Army and Air Force is an old idea. It doesn'tappeal to the brass, but so what? On the modern battlefield, everybody is inthe air-space management business, from the rifleman to the B-52 pilot. TheArmy's new medium brigade concept looks a lot like the ground element of oneof the U.S. Air Force's air expeditionary forces -- it's air-transportable,armored, agile and digitally linked. And Crusader's too heavy for the mediumbrigades.

Make the Army and Air Force one again. That'll make it easierfor air and mud to stick together.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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