Strykers in the line of fire

Associated Press: Stryker Losses Raise Questions

The press seems to be catching up to the fact that one of the central battles in this summer of “the surge” is shaping up in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad. As noted two months ago, Stryker infantry units are leading the “surge” into the region, in pursuit of insurgents, terrorists, and militiamen who fled Baghdad when the “surge” was first announced. Though the increased mobility afforded by the 8-wheeled light armored vehicles is a great advantage when fighting in a fluid and shifting environment, all isn’t perfect:

A single infantry company in Diyala lost five Strykers this month in less than a week, according to Soldiers familiar with the losses, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the information. The overall number of Strykers lost recently is classified.

In one of the biggest hits, six American Soldiers and a journalist were killed when a huge bomb exploded beneath their Stryker on May 6. It was the biggest one-day loss for the battalion in more than two years.

“We went for several months with no losses and were very proud of that,” a senior Army official said in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment publicly. “Since then, there have been quite a few Stryker losses.”

The problem certainly seems to be IEDs, and even critics are quick to point out that many of larger bombs being encountered lately, including the much-feared and much-hyped explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), threaten not only Strykers but Bradleys and Abrams tanks, as well. But as the concept of the Stryker is based around the idea of more mobility at the expense of armor protection, the concerns are justified and warrant a close look.

The Stryker is basically an armored truck, designed to wheel troops into the fight and bring some extra firepower and advanced communications and navigation equipment along for the ride. It was never intended to take the punishment that a Bradley fighting vehicle can take, but it’s speed and relatively quiet operation give it benefits that the tracked mechanized infantry just don’t have. Lesser protection and weaker firepower, however, can obviously be a problem in the wrong situation.

The question is, are fights like the combat in Diyala the “wrong situation” for the Stryker to be in?

“It is indeed an open question if the Stryker is right for this type of warfare,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior analyst with the Brookings Institution. “I am inclined to think that the concept works better for peacekeeping. But based on data the Army has made available to date, it’s hard to be sure.”


There’s no doubt the Stryker would be safer in a less-lethal environment, but isn’t that true of any vehicle? In Balkan-type peacekeeping, wouldn’t armored Humvees usually be plenty? And check out the picture I posted of Strykers from 5-20 Infantry arriving in Baqubah back in March for some junk by the side of the road. I wrote:

Cement block and a couple of empty boxes? Bombs?

Who knows?

There’s no doubt the roadside bomb is one of the greatest threats we face today, and there’s no doubt that it will continue to be whether the Stryker is on the road or not.

Critics are usually pretty quick to jump on the Stryker, though sometimes folks get a little carried away. For instance, this AP article notes that the Stryker may be out of its element because

powerful bombs – not rocket-propelled grenades or small arms fire – are the main threat.

However, anyone who has been following the Stryker will know that before the first deployment to Iraq in late 2003, the principle criticism was that the vehicle was vulnerable specifically to rocket-propelled grenades. When the Army attached a skirt of cage-like slat armor to the Strykers to protect against the RPG threat, critics just laughed. Then the slat armor proved itself to be quite effective.

Also, the article notes that

Trouble started as soon as the Strykers arrived in Baqouba, the provincial capital of Diyala. U.S. commanders ordered the vehicles into Baqouba’s streets at dawn the day after they arrived. The hope was that the large, menacing vehicles – armed with a heavy machine gun and a 105mm cannon – would intimidate insurgents and reassure local residents.

The problem with this is that the first Strykers with the 105mm cannons, the Mobile Gun System (MGS) variants, didn’t arrive in Iraq until a couple of weeks ago. The 4th Brigade, 2nd Division is the first Stryker Brigade to get the MGS. When “the Strykers arrived in Baqouba”, the 4-2 was still picking its way through protesters on the way to load up in Tacoma, Washington.

None of this means, of course, that the Stryker isn’t vulnerable to large roadside bombs. I don’t think anyone is disputing that it is. But it doesn’t do anything to add to the credibility of non-stop criticism of the Stryker.

On a final note, it might be worth looking at the Canadian Army for a minute. They just announced that they will be leasing 20 mine-resistant Leopard 2 A6M tanks from Germany and will send them to Afghanistan before the end of the summer. Last fall, Canada already sent a few tanks to beef up its forces in Afghanistan. Prior to that move, Canada’s primary armored vehicle in the country had been the LAV-3, which is what the US Stryker is based upon. One of the reasons for sending the tanks (which is a very controversial issue in Canada, by the way) was because of the LAV-3’s vulnerability to mines and roadside bombs.

In addition to the leased German tanks, Canada is planning to purchase 100 Dutch Leopard 2s as well. Remember, armies still need tanks.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that this was cross-posted to Defense Tech. Check over there, as it’s sure to get some good commentary.

Comments

  1. It would be interesting to compare the Stryker to the Cougar. Since the Cougar can actually be transported in a C-130, is more mine resistant, 1/4th the cost and is a lot more comfortable to the troops.

  2. Actually, the phrase ‘roadside bomb’ is a bit misleading. Read the article again-the IED that took out that squad (the other two guys in the rig were wounded) exploded ‘BENEATH’ the vehicle. Which makes it what is, in the FM, called an ‘LBIED’, or Large Buried IED. A ‘roadside bomb,’ unless it’s some sort of VBIED (Vehicle Borne IED, aka car bomb) or EFP, isn’t going to do much to a Stryker, unless it’s so big it can’t be easily hidden. In this particular case, it seems the AQ guys got into a sewer line, put their explosives in place, and then tamped them with concrete to increase the upward blast. Not exactly amateurish stuff. But then again, Diyala province is supposedly where a lot of the serious AQ baddies fled to from Baghdad, and it’s on the Iranian border. In all seriousness, what the AP has ‘discovered’ is the age old battle of weapons vs armor that’s been going on ever since Ug put on a padded leather shirt and turtle shell helmet so Oog’s club wouldn’t hurt so much when it hit him, and Oog responded by inventing the spear. That, and the classic three way balancing act of mobility, firepower, and protection found in all armored vehicle design.

  3. Cougar is less resistant to RPG. Also the Cougar does not have all the electronics that the Stryker has which is why it is so much cheaper. The LAV-3 is also cheaper for the same reason and it is the same basic hull as the Stryker. If you put the same C2 suite into the Cougar, it would be as expensive as the APC version of stryker, less resistent to RPG and more mine/IED resistant. The price is in the electronics/surveilance gear…

  4. I think it is one of the trade offs in equipping infantry with a vehicle like the Stryker. The strategic and tactical mobility gained by such a vehicle comes at a price. You will never be able to match the protection of an ODS Bradley. Unless an advanced active defense system can be developed that can protect thin skinned APCs from guided and unguided weapons then the FCS is dead in the water. The Abrams and Bradley remain the kings of the battlefield.

  5. A couple months ago,the press also detailed how our helicopters were falling from the sky, and yet our pilots adapted to the new threat. Given time, the Strykers will too!

  6. James: I have no problem with the Cougar. Just like the Stryker, it will excel in some environments and lag in others. DJ’s right that getting the Cougar up to Stryker-level electronics makes it far more expensive. Same goes for M113-based APCs. HL: Yeah, ‘roadside bomb’, ‘IED’, ‘mine’, and other terms sometimes get used interchangeably when they shouldn’t. I’m probably as guilty as anyone, but I think a great deal of that has to do with the fact that the weapons and methods are shifting so rapidly that it’s tough to really nail down what a particular bomb was. Blain: ‘The strategic and tactical mobility gained by such a vehicle comes at a price.‘ — You are singing my song. ‘The Abrams and Bradley remain the kings of the battlefield.‘ — And don’t forget that we spent most of the 1980s hearing about how the Bradley was the biggest boondoggle in US military history. And that the M1 was overpriced and wouldn’t be able to stand up to the Soviet tanks on the way. Mike: Excellent point about the helicopters. I think folks are right to be concerned about the Stryker’s performance (just as they were to be concerned about the helicopters earlier in the year) but sensationalizing it like this doesn’t help anyone.

  7. One has to wonder why we didn’t just buy the LAV-25 off the shelf and re-start the XM8 AGS program instead of buying Stryker. We might have had the stuff available sooner.

  8. The armor protection on the LAV-25 isn’t as good as the LAV-III/Stryker, plus the LAV-25 has things like props for water ops that the Army decided they didn’t need/want. One of the other considerations was having a common automotive platform, which simplifies logistics. And I really don’t know if the armor protection on the XM8 Buford (great cavalry commander, silly sounding name for a combat vehicle) was superior to the Stryker.

  9. The price is in the electronics/surveilance gear…’ You are absolutely correct. The cost is in the electronics. That said, only in the military does the cost of electronics go up over time vs in the civilian world where the capability goes up and the cost goes down over time. You can acquire civilian gear of greater capacity and functionality then what is in the Stryker for a fraction of the cost.

  10. MO, Well Brads are, conceptually, a bit of a knucklef*ck: ‘Let’s build a tracked vehicle bigger than a tank, so it has a higher silhouette, but put a fraction of the armor on it and equip it with a popgun. Oh, then let’s pack it full of people.’ Yes the cav variant got TOWs and yes, the Bushmaster 25 has proven effective against armored targets (I’ll tell you about some reading I did once about it vs T72s), but again, the *idea* of the system is a little weak.