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Jewish World Review May 16 , 2002 / 5 Sivan, 5762

David Silverberg

David Silverberg
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Crusaders and cannons vs. rockets | The battle over the Crusader program is not merely a battle between the secretary of defense and the Army, or even between the Pentagon and Congress. It's also a continuation of a permanent struggle for supremacy between the tubed artillerists (whom I'll call tubies) and advocates of rocketry (whom I'll call rocketeers).

The issue is: Who can accurately put more lethal metal on target faster and more effectively - cannons firing projectiles out of tubes or self-propelled rockets?

The whole existence of the Crusader project is the result of one infamous tubie who couldn't bear the loss of his pet project to the forces of rocketry.

Gerald Bull was a brilliant Canadian scientist and artillery designer whose dream was to fire satellites into orbit using cannons. When the United States, for whom he was working, decided to use rockets to loft its satellites, Bull began shopping his dream of a super-cannon around the world.

While he pursued his dream he designed the G-5 howitzer, a potent 155-mm cannon with about a 20-mile range and impressive lethality. He sold the design to South Africa in the 1970s - illegally according to U.S. prosecutors, with the knowledge and encouragement of the CIA, according to Bull. Despite his claims of innocence in 1980, he did six months in jail and emerged from prison a very bitter, disgraced, bankrupt man - but determined, nevertheless, to launch satellites by cannon.

The South Africans developed Bull's G-5 design into a potent towed howitzer. They also made it into the G-6, a self-propelled howitzer that could tear across rough terrain at 40 miles an hour, earning it the nickname "Kalahari Ferrari."

The South Africans used the guns to devastating effect in their war with the Angolans and Cubans in the late 1980s and began selling the Bull guns around the world for extra cash - not least of all to Iraq. Iraqis used South African G-5s and G-6s to rain shells and poison gas on Iranians.

But Bull also sold Saddam Hussein on the concept of launching satellites by cannon. The story is told that Bull sat on Saddam's living room floor and made his pitch in person to Saddam, who downed a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and called up his cronies in the middle of the night, insisting that they rush right over to hear Bull.

Saddam gave him the go-ahead.

As time went on, Bull also perfected the nose cones on Saddam's SCUD missiles.

The people made most unhappy about the Bull-Iraqi connection were the Israelis who repeatedly appealed to Bull not to have dealings with Saddam. The Israelis knew Bull well, had bought his designs and expertise and liked him. But they were less enthusiastic about his giving Saddam the capability of landing a nuclear artillery shell - or a perfected SCUD warhead - in the heart of Tel Aviv.

On March 22, 1990, Gerald Bull was assassinated with five silenced 7.65-mm shots to the back of his head as he entered his apartment in Brussels, Belgium. No money was stolen and his apartment was undisturbed. The designer of the world's largest ballistics was killed with some of the smallest.

In the following weeks, British authorities cracked down and seized huge sections of ostensible pipeline that, when fitted together, would have made an enormous cannon capable of launching satellites.

On Aug. 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and American soldiers were rushed to Saudi Arabia to guard against an Iraqi attack there. They faced Gerald Bull's G-5s and G-6s as well as Soviet 205-mm howitzers, tubed artillery that had more range, lethality and mobility than anything they possessed. When it came to one-on-one gun duels, American forces were outmatched by Bull's designs.

American and allied forces made up the difference with air power and a weapon called the Multiple Launch Rocket System. Ultimately, as we know, it was maneuver and combined arms, especially airpower, that pulverized Saddam's troops. And when inspectors got into Iraq, they dismantled the remains of Bull's space guns.

The irony of the Crusader is that it was designed in large part to defeat the threat of Bull's artillery in Iraqi hands. Had the United States simply purchased G-5s and G-6s from South Africa after it abolished apartheid, it would now have those weapons in inventory and could at least match Iraqi firepower.

However, 12 years after the need was recognized and on the eve of another war with Iraq when heavy artillery might be useful, American forces still don't have a home-grown solution in their inventory.

Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are engaged in their own war over the Crusader. But as they fight it out, they should be aware that they're replaying the perennial conflict between the tubies and the rocketeers that has dogged military technologists for decades.

JWR contributor David Silverberg is managing editor of The Hill. Comment by clicking here.

The future of civilization --- and those activists who seek to undermine it


© 2002, David Silverberg