Regular readers will know that I’m a bit of a fan when it comes to the new Stryker Brigade, currently deployed in Iraq. I’ve been following the Strykers for some time, and am very interested to see how they perform in their first mission.
My admiration for the program is nothing close to blind, however, and there are a lot of unanswered questions about the vehicles and the process that resulted in the current plans to field six brigades of them.
First of all, for comprehensive coverage of the men and women of the brigade, and general brigade news, I urge MO readers to visit Styker Brigade News. If the brigade makes the news, they will let you know. The site is maintained by friends and family of brigade members, and it’s clear that they are very dedicated to the folks serving in 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
I’ve added a Stryker category to MO, and all posts concerning the Stryker Brigade are included. My aim is to follow the brigades as they come online and are deployed, noting successes and failures of equipment and concepts as they ocurr.
Michael Gilbert of the Tacoma News Tribune is currently embedded with the brigade, and his reports seem to be the best source of up-to-the-minute news. Stryker Brigade News will almost certainly note any new articles from Mr. Gilbert.
For an intro to the Stryker, see this page.
The biggest questions I have about the program are (in no particular order)
- Is the Stryker’s really more strategically mobile than other units?
- Are wheels really better than tracks for the Stryker’s tactical mobility?
- Does the Stryker provide enough protection?
- What’s wrong with the 105mm gun-armed Mobile Gun System variant?
- Why weren’t competitive head-to-head tests with alternative vehicles held?
- Why does so much of the decision-making and procurement process of the Stryker program seem to stink so badly?
Here is what I’ve found and some thoughts on each subject:
Is the Stryker’s really more strategically mobile than other units?
Mechanized infantry and armored divisions take too long to get to the war. Light infantry, including airborne forces, can be there quickly but cannot stand against a mechanized foe. Enter the Stryker brigade.
Designed to be air-deployable via C-5, C-17, and C-130, one of the requirements for the Interim Brigade Combat Teams was to be deliverable in fighting condition to anywhere in the world within 96 hours. The idea behind deploying the Stryker is that C-5s and C-17s, each able to carry four and seven Strykers respectively, would bring the brigade to a major airfield near the front, and C-130s, able to carry one Stryker each, would get them to lesser airstrips close to the front.
Although much more deployable than M1 tanks and M2 infantry fighting vehicles, the Stryker hasn’t managed to quite reach these goals. As far as I can tell, all demonstrations of C-130 mobility have been short-range flights with stripped-down Strykers in only the latest J-model planes, which comprise only 10% of the C-130 fleet. In fact, when fully loaded, even the C-17 can only carry two Strykers, which is the same number of M2 Bradleys that the C-17 can carry, although I don’t know if those Bradleys have a full or partial combat load. This page indicates that a C-17 is capable of carrying three Bradleys.
If the Stryker is no more (or only slightly more) strategically deployable than an M2 Bradley, there’s something wrong. A Bradley with a partial load is far more capable than a Stryker with a full load.
The primary argument by opponents of the Stryker is not that the Army shouldn’t have a light armored vehicle, but that it should have chosen the M113 instead. A C-17 can carry four or five M113s, and four of the MTVL “stretched” M113s. Both the M113 and the MTVL can be carried with a full combat load and full crew on the C-130 without the waiver required to carry a Stryker with a partial crew and only 4 of its 11 men.
The 96 hour brigade deployment goal is utterly unrealistic, but this would be the case with any armored vehicle given our current fleet of transport aircraft. For a brigade comprised of any armored vehicles, we would have to commit nearly every available transport to the task.
It seems that the Stryker is slightly more deployable than current tank and mechanized infantry units, but not by a great deal and not close to meeting the original requirements of the brigade. While not a total failure, this is troubling, especially given the expense of the program.
Are wheels really better than tracks for the Stryker’s tactical mobility?
This subject seems to be only second to the protection argument in terms of polarity. The track fans have nothing but discouraging words to say about the wheel fans. And vice versa.
The Stryker has an advertised top speed of 60 MPH and fuel efficiency of around 6 MPG. (Range seems to be 300-330 miles at 40 MPH on a 53 gallon tank.) Compare this to top speed of 45 MPH and mileage of 0.5 MPG (or less) for the M1 Abrams and 40+ MPH and 1.5 MPG for an M2 Bradley.
The Stryker seems to meet these specs, but they fall off dramatically off-road, as would be expected of a wheeled vehicle. The top speed, while significantly higher than that of the Bradley and M113 (which is also about 40 MPH), is hampered by the fact that turning and turning around are more difficult and time-consuming in a wheeled vehicle compared to a tracked vehicle, which can pivot in place. In fact, the M113 actually beat a Stryker in a road speed test because of this.
Tires are quieter than tracks, and provide a slightly more comfortable ride for passengers. All of this adds up to a vehicle which is, at least on roads, generally faster, fuel efficient, and friendly to operate than tracked vehicles. All of this is out the window if the vehicles are asked to go cross-country, however, and the Stryker, although capable of some cross-country trekking, is mostly limited to roads and built-up areas. This is fine if that’s the only place they’re intended to be used.
The Marines were very happy with their LAV-25s in Iraq, which are an earlier generation of the vehicle that the Stryker is based upon. The Marine LAVs outperformed tha AAVP7A1 Amtracs on the road to Baghdad, though that may have been different if the road wouldn’t have been on a road. A Lessons Learned report from the 1st Marine Division notes the success of the LAVs and recommends acquiring more, or possibly buying Strykers similar to the Army’s.
But the biggest argument made against tires are their survivability in combat zones. During early training exercises, the brigade went through tires pretty quickly. As driver experience has increased, though, the number of shredded tires has decreased.
Still, one of the biggest complaints from Marines returning from Afghanistan was LAV tire damage from the rough terrain. While still able to move on run-flat tires, the LAVs are severely restricted when more than one or two tires are damaged.
The tires make easy targets for enemy fighters. There is not any armor skirt covering the tires, which are large and vulnerable to small-arms fire and shrapnel damage. Marine LAVs carry at least one spare tire, but Army Strykers do not.
The wheel vs. tracks debate will go on forever, probably. Each has some advantages. But tracks certainly seem to have the upper hand, and I hope that the Army takes a long, honest look at the Stryker’s performance in Iraq. If the wheels perform well, they should answer much of the intense criticism they’ve been subject to. If they don’t, I hope that Stryker supporters admit that tracks might be worth it despite the additional weight and cost.
Does the Stryker provide enough protection?
The Stryker made the news this past fall when it was discovered that a lot of its ceramic armor tiles were not built to spec. The faulty parts were tracked down and replaced.
The Stryker, basically a glorified armored car, is designed to be proof against 7.62mm rounds like those of the AK-47. With the ceramic tiles added, the vehicle is supposed to be protected against 14.5mm fire. Although live-fire tests have borne this out, there have also been some instances where the vehicle was pierced, especially in the wheel wells.
The biggest problem, however, concerns protection against rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire. Basically every bad guy in the world has access to RPG launchers and almost unlimited ammunition. RPG volleys were used to extreme effect against Russian armored forces in Chechnya, and many of the attacks against US troops in Iraq, both during and after the invasion, were made with RPGs. Without additional slat armor, the Stryker is extremely vulnerable to RPGs. There have been no reports of RPG attacks against Strykers so far in Iraq, so the effectiveness of the slat armor is still in question. In any event, the tires and the top of the vehicle are not protected by the slat armor.
Usually, though, comparisons of other vehicles with the Stryker are with up-armored versions of the other vehicles which, while possible, greatly affect the vehicle’s other characteristics. Up-armored versions are compared to the Stryker when discussing protection, and non-up-armored versions are compared to the Stryker when discussing other factors. Also, many times critics like to call the Stryker a “death trap” because it carries 9 men, then later point out that the M113 is superior because it can carry 11 men. Although they make many good points, it is important to realize that the anti-Styker folks don’t always compare apples to apples any more than the Army does.
The fact is that making a light armored vehicle RPG-proof is nearly impossible. M1 tanks and M2 Bradleys can take multiple RPG hits without more than a scratch because they carry many more tons of thick armor. Light armored vehicles trade in a lot of that protection for increased mobility.
When it comes to protection, usually the best defense is a good offense. The Stryker seems to be woefully under-gunned. It carries either a .50 cal machine gun or a grenade launcher on a remotely-controlled weapons station. The weapons station is unstabilized, meaning that it cannot be fired accurately while the vehicle is moving. In contrast, the Marine LAV-25 (and some versions of the Stryker that we’re exporting) have a stabilized 25mm chain gun turret. The weight of this system was deemed to great to include in the Army’s Stryker lineup.
What’s wrong with the 105mm gun-armed Mobile Gun System variant?
One version of the Stryker is designed to carry a 105mm gun. This is the exact same gun that was mounted on the original M1 Abrams tank. This would provide the Stryker Brigades with considerable firepower for use against hardened targets and at longer ranges.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The gun is too heavy, the recoil is too great, and the muzzle blast is too powerful for the Stryker. The Brigade deployed to Iraq without the MGS Strykers. Nothing I’ve read anywhere indicates that the MGS is anywhere close to ready. In fact, most of what I’ve read claims that the system will never work.
Unless this is incorrect, the Army should ditch the Stryker MGS immediately and either develop a Stryker with a stabilized 25mm turret like the LAV-25, or pursue the M8 Armored Gun System, a light-weight 105mm gun system designed to be air-droppable for airborne forces. Another option would perhaps be to use the M8’s XM35 low-recoil cannon on the Stryker MGS instead of the old M1 main guns.
The Stryker Brigades need this firepower. The Army needs to find a way to get it to them, and fast.
Why weren’t competitive head-to-head tests with alternative vehicles held?
The lobby that supports using M113-based alternatives to the Stryker likes to point out that the Army didn’t allow head-to-head competition between the Stryker and its competitors. This is troubling.
They Stryker very well may be superior system. For the money, I certainly hope that it is. Considering that our troops are currently in the field with these vehicles, they damn well had better be.
But why didn’t the Army allow head-to-head tests? In the limited, after-the-fact test that WERE conducted, the M113 performed well if not better than the Stryker in several areas.
In training exercises, the Stryker has either performed very well, acceptably, or very poorly, depending who you talk to. Why can’t we get some answers? I’d like to trust that the Army does have the facts and has made a good decision based upon them, and that all the nay-saying is just a bitter misinformation campaign. But history doesn’t encourage me to believe that.
Interestingly, the decision by New Zealand to purchase LAV III “Super Strykers” was also made without competition. People there are not happy.
Why does so much of the decision-making and procurement process of the Stryker program seem to stink so badly?
The rumors of scandal and accusations of corruption surround the Stryker program. I’m not going to go into depth, but it really smells. For more information, see this admittedly anti-Stryker page.
In short, Eric Shinseki was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army late in President Clinton’s second term and he immediately set to work remolding the Army. Stryker brigades are planned for states whose Senators hold important position on committees critical to approval of funding for the program. Air-mobility tests are conducted with few observers under tightly-controlled conditions. Rules in war games are supposedly altered to benefit Stryker units.
When Marine General Paul van Riper used unorthodox tactics like motorcycle messengers to score points in a big 2002 wargame, Strykers were part of the blue force that benefited from rules changes outlawing the irregular tactics of van Riper’s red team. Rumor has it that the Strykers performed exceedingly poorly, and that they would have been wiped out if not for special considerations that limited the number of Strykers that could be killed per engagement.
Is any of this true? We don’t know. But I would guess that at least some of it is. Remember, though, that just because this program suffers from cost over-runs, close relationships between military decision-makers and civilian contractors, political graft, and outright lying by any number of individuals doesn’t mean it’s any different than any other military program.
Sad, but true.
The M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle suffered from many of the same issues during its development. Now it’s one of the vehicles that is being held up as an example of how things should be done. The F-117 stealth fighter, once they learned that it even existed, was attacked by Congress for being over-priced and ineffective after Panama in 1989. Battleship admirals did everything they could to stop the development of aircraft carriers, including claiming that the ships were too big, easy targets, too thin-skinned, and prone to accidents.
The point is that we don’t know, and neither do the lobbyists. There are missions that the Stryker is well-suited to. There are others that would prove all the critics right if the Stryker was sent on them. The critics are nearly rabid in their attacks on the program. A lot of what they say makes sense, and some of it seems to be irrefutable fact. But the performance of the Stryker Brigade in Iraq will answer many of these questions.
Stryker Not Up to Speed in Some Areas, Soldiers Claim
Stryker Brigades vs. The Reality of War
Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV)
Army’s Lightweight Stryker Brigade to be tested in Iraq
WHEELED ARMORED CARS: FAILURES NOT THE “FUTURE” OF WARFARE