The U.S. Army's Stryker armored car and the Reality of 21st Century War


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Washington Times
August 26, 2003
Study Finds New Army Vehicle Too Vulnerable
Stryker troop carriers to debut in Iraq in October

By Rowan Scarborough, The Washington Times

The Army's new state-of-the art infantry vehicle slated to make its combat debut in Iraq in October is vulnerable to the kind of rocket-propelled grenades now being used by Saddam Hussein's guerrillas, a consultant's report charges. The Army, which rebuts the report's findings, plans to send 300 Stryker armored vehicles and 3,600 Soldiers to Iraq. This first Stryker brigade will help put down the resistance that has killed more 60 American troopers since May 1. It will also be a preview of a lighter, more mobile Army for the 21st century. But a report prepared for Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, says the vehicle is ill-suited for such warfare. "Poorly armored and entirely vulnerable to RPGs," states the glossy, 108-page report prepared July 18 by consultant Victor O'Reilly. An Army spokesman, however, said the Strykers are being fitted with added armor. This will "drastically increase their protection against kinetic energy weapons and increase RPG protection," said Lt. Col. Stephen Barger, spokesman for 1st Corps at Fort Lewis, Wash., where the brigade is being developed. As part of an accelerated development, the Army did not require Strykers to immediately feature anti-RPG armor. The brigade going to Iraq is now being fitted with slat armor. It works like a big catcher's mask, stopping a grenade before it reaches the Stryker's main body, thus keeping the explosion at a distance. Eventually, the Strykers will be fitted with more permanent armor now being tested. The Stryker has successfully passed live-fire tests against rifle and machine-gun fire. The slat armor system has also shown in tests that it protects against grenade blasts. Mr. O'Reilly, who said he did the report at his own expense, says even with the added armor the Stryker's top and wheel wells are susceptible to RPGs that could kill all 13 Soldiers inside the Stryker's infantry carrier version. The Pentagon this year signed off on a plan to procure enough Stryker vehicles to equip the first four of six brigades, which would become the vanguard of a lighter, quicker deploying Army. Despite Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's program approval, a number of Stryker skeptics remain within the active Army, and among former Soldiers and members of Congress.

None is more vocal than Mr. Saxton, a House Armed Services Committee member. He succeeded during debate on next year's defense budget to "fence" $300 million in procurement funds until the Army answers operational questions. Mr. Saxton fears the Stryker is not only vulnerable to RPG fire, but is also overweight and cannot easily fit into a C-130 transport plane - a feat that is supposed to be one of its best selling points. The Stryker is actually a family of 10 vehicles that gets around on wheels, not the traditional rolling tracks. They include the infantry carrier vehicle, the mobile gun system, the anti-tank guided missile, the mortar carrier and the reconnaissance vehicle. After the Army took weeks to deploy a relatively small Apache helicopter unit on the Kosovo border in 1999, Gen. Eric Shinseki, then the chief of staff, moved to lighten the force. One of his answers was to develop a family of light, wheeled vehicles that eventually became the Stryker family. Mr. O'Reilly's report, "Stryker Brigades Versus the Reality of War," is being circulated on Capitol Hill and among the active force and retirement community. Among his conclusions on the eight-wheel, 20-ton infantry carrier version:

*"Poorly armored and entirely vulnerable to RPGs."
*"Wheels & wells extremely vulnerable to small arms."
*"Bought to be C-130 deployable but too heavy."

Mr. O'Reilly is an author and counterterrorism authority who has written about military affairs. He said much of his information on Stryker comes from within the Army itself. "I have a passion for the Army, and when I see it going in the wrong direction, I get upset," he said. He said the Stryker is fine for light peacekeeping duty and policing, but he contends it is too vulnerable for land combat. Col. Barger, the Army spokesman, rebutted these criticisms. He ticked off a list of Stryker tests and exercises. These included loading the system on the C-130 and C-17 transport planes, as well as on ships and trains. The vehicle also has cleared readiness training at Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La. "For the past three weeks, in California's barren Mojave Desert, the Stryker Brigade Combat Team proved its speed, versatility and lethality against a world-class opposing force at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin," an Army press release said earlier this month.

Built by General Dynamics, the Stryker is designed as a medium-weight armored system to fill the gap between light infantry units such as the 82nd Airborne Division and heavy armored units that can take weeks to get to battle. "It does fit on a C-130," said Kendall Pease, vice president of communications for General Dynamics in Falls Church. "It's been on a C-130. They have deployed it on exercises in a C-130. It fits. It meets all the requirements that the Air Force has given. Yes, it's true that it is fast, mobile, survivable, deployable and lethal. It meets all the expectations of the young Soldiers that are required to use it in battle." Gen. John Keane, the Army vice chief of staff, told reporters last month that the Iraq-bound Stryker brigade faced "the toughest opponent our forces have ever faced" at combat training centers. "We've put them through their paces and they're ready to go," he said. The Army plans to buy 2,100 vehicles, enough to put about 300 in each brigade. Mr. O'Reilly says it will cost between $12 billion and $15 billion to equip six brigades. The Pentagon has funded the first three and made a down payment on the fourth.

The Stryker is a pathway to the Army's ultimate transformation goal: a family of high-tech vehicles and aircraft called the Future Combat System. The objective is to get a Stryker brigade any place in the world in four days. But a June General Accounting Office report said that benchmark is not being met. The GAO credited the Army with reducing the logistics load, as compared with a 68-ton M-1A1 tank. "However, meeting the 4-day worldwide deployment goal of a brigade-size force would require more airlift than may be possible to allocate to these brigades; at present, it would take from 5 to 14 days, depending on destination." The Army announced last month it was sending the first Stryker unit, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis to Iraq. The Stryker unit will join the 3rd Cavalry Regiment in October. The regiment will leave Iraq in April and May, leaving the Stryker Brigade in Iraq until October 2004.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely said he has been following development of the Stryker for several years. "It's been a very controversial issue," said the Fox News military analyst in an interview. "This report really calls in to question whether this is the combat vehicle for the Army in the future." Gen. Vallely said the Stryker seems designed more for peacekeeping operations than for combat. He noted that the Army still has not decided what size gun to deploy on the Mobile Gun System variant. "The other thing is that it does not appear to be as efficient and effective as a tracked vehicle in combat operations," said Gen. Vallely, an infantryman. "It is also very vulnerable to [rocket-propelled grenades] and sniper fire at its wheels." Gen. Vallely said retired Gen. Shinseki initially wanted the 19-ton Stryker to be lighter and more mobile than current combat vehicles. "But it's a heavier vehicle and harder to move than what is required for very speedy mobility and transportability to areas of combat operations," he said. Bill Gertz contributed to this report.

U.S. questions Stryker armor by German firm

By Rowan Scarborough

The Army has been forced to conduct a new round of live-fire tests on its Stryker infantry vehicle headed for Iraq, after learning a German company had delivered armor plating not previously approved.

The tests against rounds from heavy machine guns began Labor Day weekend at the Aberdeen, Md., Proving Ground. At least one sample ceramic tile which makes up the Stryker's exterior armor to protect soldiers inside failed, Army officials said.

The problem arose last winter when the Germany firm I.B.D., which makes the ceramic armor called Mexus 2, changed the way it manufactured the tiles, but did not tell the Army. The change meant the company was sending different types of tiles that had not been certified as bullet-resistant by the Army.

Further tests and X-rays this summer confirmed the abnormality. Army officials told The Washington Times last week the tiles are of a "nonstandard confirmation" in three areas: ceramic ingredients were changed by I.B.D.; the sizes of some tiles differ from the original design and/or, a manufacturer was chosen by I.B.D. without prior approval by General Dynamics Corp., the Stryker's prime contractor.

While Army officials told The Times they will not send any vehicles to Iraq until they meet required protection levels, news of the armor problem will surely feed the Stryker's numerous critics. Retired officers and some lawmakers contend the vehicle already is susceptible to rocket-propelled grenades, such as the ones used with deadly effect by Saddam Hussein guerrillas in Iraq.

The Stryker stands as the Army's most important transformation program. It symbolizes an attempt to meet Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's goal of a lighter, quicker-deploying Army to meet 21st century threats. The Pentagon has approved the first four of a planned six Stryker brigades of some 300 vehicles and 3,800 soldiers each. A Stryker brigade is scheduled to make its combat debut in Iraq next month as part of the Army's complex plan to rotate troops in and out of the post-Saddam country.

The Army is subjecting 39 ceramic tiles to machine gun fire. Each tile represents a category of tile that, because of I.B.D. changes, did not meet Army specifications. As of Friday, the Army had tested 11 of the 39, with one getting a failing grade because a round was able to penetrate it.

The Army will fix that side-panel tile by either reinforcing it with a steel plate on each Stryker or replacing it altogether with newer tiles from the I.B.D. assembly line. The Army has shipped steel plates to Fort Lewis, Wash., where the brigade is based, just in case the steel-plate option is chosen.

"We will fix anything we find wrong with those vehicles before they leave the United States," said an Army official at the Pentagon. Each vehicle is fitted with 132 ceramic tiles. The Army requires each Stryker to withstand up to a 14.5 millimeter round.

Kendall Pease, vice president for communications at General Dynamics in Fairfax, said the company and the Army are jointly working with I.B.D. to rectify the tiles.

Mr. Pease said that just because some tiles have been judged not compliant with the contract does not mean they do not provide the needed protection. He noted that of the 11 tested so far, 10 met specifications of 14.5mm protection.

"We're just as concerned as the Army because protection of our soldiers is paramount and we are working closely with the subcontractor and with the Army to ensure they're protected," he said.

Mr. Pease said that, next to the 70-ton M1A1 tank, the Stryker will provide the best protection of any vehicle in Iraq. [EDITOR: BALD-FACED LIE. M2 Bradleys and M113A3 Gavins are better protected] He said some critics have the wrong idea of what the Stryker is supposed to do.

"This is not a tank," he said. "The mission of this is to carry troops. The alternative to this is troops marching, and people keep forgetting this. This is an infantry carrier vehicle, with variants, to supply support for those troops when they go into battle. The Soldiers come out of this vehicle fresh and ready to fight."

The armor problem comes as an author and military consultant is circulating a report in which he asserts that the Stryker has a number of operational shortcomings and that it should not be inserted into a combat zone. Victor O'Reilly, who wrote the report for Rep. James H. Saxton, New Jersey Republican, said the Stryker's wheel wells are particularly vulnerable targets.

General Dynamics counters that all vehicles have some vulnerability to rocket-propelled grenades. Once in Iraq, each Stryker will be fitted with slat armor sort of a big catcher's mask to deflect grenades.

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Author: Victor O'Reilly


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