More Stryker Stuff

Army’s most modern high-tech forces discover hard lesson.

The Kansas City Star has a Stryker article today, too. I guess it’s “bash on Stryker Thursday”, or something.

It’s weird. Earlier in the year, when folks were trashing the Stryker, they’d dismiss the brigade’s combat record because Mosul was a piece of cake. Now the Stryker isn’t good enough because Mosul is too tough for it.

The Stryker brigades are the vanguard of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s vision of a new Army, one transformed into smaller, more agile units with high-tech equipment that can go anywhere, anytime. The brigades’ heavily armored vehicles can reach 70 mph, carry advanced computer systems and heavy firepower, and absorb blasts from roadside bombs or rocket-propelled grenades, which can destroy a Humvee or even a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The approximately 5,000 soldiers of the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division who took control of Mosul last February were the first full-sized Stryker force to go into combat. They replaced some 20,000 soldiers from the 101st Airborne, a division with the ability to drop units in by helicopter, but based mainly on traditional infantry structure.

The men of the 101st moved around Mosul in Humvees but sustained few casualties, even though some of their Humvees lacked armor.

Conditions in Mosul, however, have gotten worse since the Strykers arrived.

Much was made last spring of the fact that a brigade (albeit one of the new-fangled larger ones supported by some Iraqi forces) was replacing an entire air assault division. But they kept things running pretty smoothly, as evidenced by the “piece of cake”-type comments throughout the summer and fall. The increased mobility that the troops had, along with the advanced command, control, and communication gear available in the Stryker, allowed fewer soldiers to perform the same duties.

Now, that’s all well and good to a point. But when it comes time to fight larger-scale fights, a brigade is, after all, a brigade and not a division. Obviously it doesn’t have as many men, and it can’t pull as many triggers.

But, with a few notable exceptions, the Mosul area has been relatively calm until the last couple of months or so. Things started heating up significantly about the time US troops entered Fallujah in force in November, and they’ve been building up ever since. In fact, one battalion of Strykers in the Fallujah area was quickly recalled to Mosul before the conclusion of the Fallujah operation to help fight increased insurgent activity.

Reports at the time indicated the insurgents the brigade was encountering in Mosul were not only better-trained and better-equipped than the insurgents they were used to facing, but they also didn’t even seem to be local to the Mosul area.

These reports and their timing seem to indicate that the fighters displaced from parts of the Sunni Triangle have taken up residence farther north. If you’ll look at a map, you’ll see that ‘north’ also means ‘closer to Syria’. Two of the officers in the article said that Fallujah fighters might be a factor, but not as big of a factor as having too few men. While I’m not about to debate it with men who are over there, the number of men would not be a factor if the insurgents hadn’t stepped up the number and the quality of attacks. I think that its a case of the bad guys migrating to an area with fewer men, not a case of too few men to deal with a particular area.

If this is the case, you’d think that insurgent activity in other parts of Iraq may have quieted some. It’s hard to tell, as the bad guys really seem to be working hard on building to a crescendo of violence timed to disrupt the elections at the end of the month. But nowhere else seems to have picked up nearly as much as Mosul has, and if there is a little less pressure in other parts, the Army would probably shift other units up to Mosul to help pick up the slack.

And this is exactly what’s been going on.

So, rather than a sign that the Stryker isn’t up to the job, I think this is more a sign that the insurgency has decided it wants to fight in an area where we don’t have as many bodies. Although the Stryker’s speed and electronics allow one man to do the work and cover the ground of more than one, they don’t allow him to be in two places at once.

That’s sort of what the KC Star story is getting at, and it’s correct. But it’s presented as a mark against the Stryker and Donald Rumsfeld (who is probably the real target of much of this criticism). This smacks of opportunistic reporting, spinning things slightly to get the twist they’re looking for. For a while it was body armor. More recently it was Humvee and truck armor. Now transformation (personified by Donald Rumsfeld, though it’s been planned for over a decade and going on for years) is the story du jour.

Everyone’s out there looking for a Tet or a Pentagon Papers or a Mai Lai.


  1. [THIS COMMENT RESTORED AFTER BEING ACCIDENTALLY DELETED DURING DE-SPAMMING] My problem with the Stryker is with the practices used to decide upon buying it, not with the vehicle itself as such. For example, the allegation (which I believe from what I’ve read) that they wouldn’t even allow a fair comparison between the new Strykers and existing vehicles, to determine whether it’s really an improvement! From what I’ve read, there was a comparison between some vanilla M113s and the Strykers when they were new but it was rigged. If it’s really so great, why does the comparison need to be rigged? Maybe it doesn’t, but it’s awfully suspicious don’t you think? What I don’t understand is why the US military is so reluctant to modify existing vehicles to fit new roles. Lots of people do it all the time. For example, Israel and the USSR have both had great success doing this. The US military seems to need to have something completely new, from the ground up, every time for each new role they want to fill. Often, this is what’s required, but wouldn’t it be worth seriously studying the other approach? For a tiny fraction of the R&D of a new vehicle it should be possible to modify a couple of existing vehicles to do the job and try them out. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! (By the way, I think the one-vehicle-for-all-tasks logic is equally stupid. You get a jack-of-all-trades-ace-of-none, or even worse, a total failure. This has happened several times also. Jet aircraft are a prime example – e.g. F-111) I find it highly suspicious. OK, maybe bolting a bunch of armour onto an M113, and mounting an auto-cannon on the top wouldn’t be as good as a Stryker. Maybe it would be nearly as good and a lot cheaper. Maybe it would be better. Hard to tell without actually doing it, isn’t it? Why not try? As far as I know, several people have offered to build such a vehicle for the US military for moderate cost (<$1million per vehicle; well worth doing one or two and seeing how it works out, don’t you think, compared to the Stryker’s R&D budget?). The advantage of this approach is that not only are you risking less, but if you’re already paid for 10,000+ M113s, you’re making better use of the existing investment. Anyway, I think the argument is for sanity. It’s not ‘my toy is better than your toy’. It’s about common sense procurement, which seems to be lacking recently from a number of high profile cases I’ve read about, and not just in the Army.